Possible Irene-spawned tornado levels Columbia homes

Posted August 29, 2011 11:39 p.m. EDT
Updated August 30, 2011 12:11 a.m. EDT

— The National Weather Service is still trying to determine if a tornado hit the coastal community of Columbia in Tyrrell County on Friday night, hours before Hurricane Irene slammed the area.

Doris and Henry Rhines’ house along U.S. Highway 64 was demolished during the back-to-back storms. Cinder blocks from its foundation lay scattered where the home once stood and their belongings littered a field across the road on Monday.

Swirling winds pulled the four cars parked in the Rhines' driveway and spun one around, flipped one over, pushed one aside and drove one 20 yards away, where it sat collecting rubble as Irene continued on its destructive course.

"We just have to start from scratch," said Courtney Spencer, the Rhines' granddaughter.

Spencer and her son had been staying with her grandparents while her husband is deployed to Afghanistan with the Navy.

"My grandparents are holding up pretty good. We're all holding up, it's just, it's hard," Spencer said. "It's overwhelming to see all this."

Spencer said she cried when she saw her son's bed floating in a ditch.

Many other homes in the Rhines' neighborhood were damaged or destroyed and some minor flooding still impacts several communities throughout Tyrrell County.

Most businesses in downtown Columbia had some flooding, but expected to be dried out and open for business on Tuesday.