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Raleigh residents remember tornado 27 years ago

It has been 27 years since the overnight tornado that killed four people and injured 157 as it tore north from Raleigh through Wake, Franklin, Nash, Halifax, Northampton and Hertford counties on Nov. 28, 1988.

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Minnie Bridgers
RALEIGH, N.C. — An overnight tornado killed four people and injured 157 as it tore north from Raleigh through Wake, Franklin, Nash, Halifax, Northampton and Hertford counties on Nov. 28, 1988.

The twister reached a maximum intensity of F4 in northwest Raleigh, where two children were killed. More than 100 people were injured.

Tornadoes usually form during heavy thunderstorms when warm, moist air collides with cold air. The storms can also produce large hail and strong winds.

"All that weekend, the National Severe Storm Center was keeping an eye on the eastern part of the country for the possibility of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. When nothing happened on Saturday and Sunday, the general thinking was ... if it hasn't happened yet, it is not going to happen," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

So when the twister touched down, just after 1 a.m. on a Monday near Umstead State Park and Ebenezer Church Road, no severe thunderstorm or tornado watches or warnings had been issued for Wake County.

WRAL News anchor Charlie Gaddy went live that night from the Glenwood Avenue Kmart, which the twister had leveled.

"The Townridge Shopping Center is built in a V or an L (shape) and half of it is gone. That means that the Kmart has been demolished and several business adjacent to it,” Gaddy said during his first report from the scene.

The Pridgen family lived behind the Kmart.

"If you walked in, we had a roof in (one) room and behind it a pile of bricks from the chimney. The room we were in was the room that was saved, and so none of us were hurt," Cheryl Pridgen said.

Chuck Liles lived in the Hampton Oaks subdivision, where two children died in the tornado. He said he yelled for his family that night.

"It's like an explosion or implosion of your house. [My wife] grabbed Lauren and I grabbed Phil, and I threw them down in the hall and grabbed hold of the door jambs and the next thing I know – boom," he said.

Despite the lack of warning, most people were able to safely take cover that night.

"The only good thing that I remember that came out of that tornado was that it was one o'clock in the morning and most people were asleep, but when they heard that sound – the train sound – they knew what to do," Fishel said.

The tornado damaged or destroyed nearly 2,500 homes and over 75 businesses.

"The devastation of this thing was incredible," Gaddy recalled during an 2003 interview.

The tornado remained on the ground for 84 miles as it raced northeast at 50 mph through northeastern Wake, southern Franklin, northwestern Nash, central Halifax, Northampton, and northern Hertford counties.

Two people died in northwestern Nash County when the tornado destroyed a mobile home.

The twister, which dissipated after crossing Interstate 95 in Halifax County, caused an estimated $77 million in damage.

WRAL News produced a documentary about the twister shortly after it hit. You can watch that video along with other WRAL reports as the 27th anniversary of the tornado approaches.
We would also like you to share your stories and photos about the Tornado of '88.

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