Hurricane winds strike far inland in eastern NC

Posted August 28, 2011 4:04 p.m. EDT
Updated August 29, 2011 6:28 a.m. EDT

— The winds of Hurricane Irene reached hundreds of miles inland, downing trees, damaging schools and knocking out power in communities like Rocky Mount, Greenville, Wilson and Tarboro.

"Mother Nature has a mind of her own," Rocky Mount resident Lee Shearin said. "You think you're too far away where it can't get you, but it'll get you."

"It was really scary. I've never experienced anything like this – an earthquake and then a hurricane," said Bettie Robinson of Rocky Mount, referring to Hurricane Irene on Saturday and an East Coast earthquake last Tuesday.

She said the amount of damage in Rocky Mount was surprising.

"I'll be honest with you. Yesterday, as I rode through town, I got a little depressed, but quickly had to come out of that," she said.

During the storm, Robinson watched the winds gradually uproot a 100-year-old tree in her front yard. She had to navigate downed but live power lines to get out of her house Sunday.

An uprooted tree fell through the middle of Shearin's mother's house and destroyed her carport.

Shearin said Irene wasn't as devastating as the flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, but it managed to land a few knockout blows.

"It's still punching up a real powerful punch," he said.

Shearin anticipated a long clean-up. "We ain't done with it. It's nowhere near done," he said.

Rocky Mount City Manager Charles Penny said the city has already launched into recovery, with restoring power and cleaning up are top priorities.

"This isn't our first rodeo," Penny said.

Significant wind damage was reported in Wilson, where toppled oak trees littered the city's historic district and 45-foot, snapped-in-half utility poles lined Highway 301.

In nearby Stantonsburg, a farmer saw many of his crops obliterated by the wind.

Doug Webb manages Wainwright Farms, where they grow a variety of crops, including tobacco and cotton. He said the damage to his crops was catastrophic and he is sure he's not the only one affected.

"You can talk to any farmer from here back to the coast that's tending tobacco or corn or cotton, he's going to have about the same amount of damage," he said.

Powerful winds ripped the roof off Tarboro High School, and four classrooms are so damaged they aren't usable, said Ann Kent, school board chairwoman. Water also leaked through several spots in the ceiling. An estimate for clean-up wasn't complete.

All public schools in Tarboro and Wayne County will be closed Monday. East Carolina University in Greenville also canceled classes for Monday.

Maintenance crews cleaned up damaged dormitory rooms and removed uprooted trees on ECU's campus Sunday. Tree limbs crashed through the windows of two dormitories. Greene Residence Hall got the worst of it. A water pipe leaked and flooded the 10th floor.

In Goldsboro, part of the roof at Berkley Mall collapsed. City Manager Scott Stevens said that a few stores had significant damage, but no one was injured.

Winds up to 50 mph toppled trees throughout the city and Wayne County, landing on houses and downing power lines. Nearly 12,000 Progress Energy customers remained without power early Monday.