Weather Service: Tornado outbreak sets record for NC

Posted April 22, 2011 1:03 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2011 8:13 p.m. EDT

— The National Weather Service said Friday that the number of confirmed tornadoes that tore across central and eastern North Carolina last Saturday is up to 28, which breaks the state record for the size of a tornado outbreak.

Meteorologists said a dozen supercell thunderstorms passed over the state, and some spawned families of tornadoes. On Tuesday, they had confirmed 25 tornadoes, and they have since added to the list EF0 tornadoes near Faison in Duplin County, in Jones County and near Bath in Beaufort County.

An EF0 tornado has wind speeds of 65 to 86 mph.

Five of the tornadoes to hit North Carolina were listed as EF3, with wind speeds of 136 to 165 mph. Those included twisters that traveled through Lee and Wake counties and through Cumberland, Harnett and Johnston counties.

The previous record for widespread tornado activity in North Carolina was on March 28, 1984, when 25 tornadoes hit 20 counties in eastern North Carolina, killing 42 people.

Twenty-four people, including 12 in Bertie County, died as a result of Saturday's storms, which affected 33 counties.

Final damage estimates aren't in, but state officials said Wednesday that preliminary estimates showed 133 people were seriously injured, 21 businesses and 439 homes were destroyed and 92 businesses and 6,189 houses sustained significant damage.

FEMA expands aid centers

The federal government has declared 18 counties – Bertie, Bladen, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Wake and Wilson – disaster areas, allowing residents and business owners to apply for low-interest loans to repair and replace belongings.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened offices Thursday in Cumberland and Bertie counties to process aid applications. On Friday, the agency opened offices in Lee, Johnston and Wake counties.

View FEMA offices in a larger map

The FEMA offices will remain open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. until further notice, including Easter Sunday. The agency is also available by phone at 1-800-621-3362 or online.

FEMA spokeswoman Mary Margaret Walker said grant assistance is based on need, not income. Most claims can be processed within seven days, she said, allowing inspectors time to survey damage and talk with storm victims about their needs.

"This would be for people whose homes have been destroyed and are uninhabitable," Walker said.

About 140 people had visited the Fayetteville FEMA office by Friday evening, including Donald Raynor, whose home and classic cars in Linden were destroyed by a tornado.

Raynor, 66, said he doesn't have insurance coverage and needs assistance. He expressed some frustration about the process.

"They really didn't tell me what they could do for me. They didn't tell me what they were going to do. They just said I got my name in the pot," he said.

"We're going to survive, by the good Lord's help," he said. "He's looked after me so far, and he took me through (the storm) without a scratch."

Fayetteville resident Melissa Pollard said the storms knocked her power out for more than two days, forcing her to throw out all of the food in her refrigerator.

"It didn't hit our house. We were blessed by that," Pollard said. "I have three children at home. We can't not eat."

Likewise, resident Billie Arrington hoped to get some aid to make up for $200 in food that went bad when her home lost power. She said, however, that FEMA should focus on those who lost most of what they had.

"Help those families that actually lost their houses. That way, they can rebuild," Arrington said.

FEMA workers also were going door to door in storm-ravaged counties to offer aid for repairs, temporary housing and other needs.