Weather

Strong storms, possible twisters, damage homes

Posted May 5, 2009 10:21 a.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2009 7:10 a.m. EDT

— At least a dozen homes were damaged and three minor injuries reported after a strong band of thunderstorms swept across North Carolina on Tuesday, spawning tornado warnings and possible twister touchdowns.

One minor injury was reported in Wilson County, where officials think a tornado touched down near the town of Sims in the eastern part of the state. As many as a dozen homes were damaged, and 25 people were forced to seek refuge in a shelter set up at Rock Ridge Elementary School.

Two minor injuries were reported in nearby Nash County, where state Crime Control and Public Safety spokesman Ernie Seneca said two mobile homes were destroyed and power lines were brought down.

"There were reports of eight tornado touchdowns, but those won't be confirmed until Wednesday when damage surveys are conducted," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

The storm brought heavy rain, lightning and smothering clouds to downtown Raleigh, obscuring the city's skyline for part of the evening. Tornado sirens sounded at North Carolina State University on Raleigh's west side. A flash flood warning was issued for Wake County because of the sudden deluge.

A funnel cloud was spotted over Lyons Park in East Raleigh just after 7 p.m., Fishel said. At 7:25 p.m., a weather spotter reported a funnel cloud on Knightdale Road near U.S. Highway 64, moving east at 20 mph.

Flash floods washed out Atlantic Avenue in Raleigh. Traffic on Avent Ferry Road was at a standstill due to high water. In Cary, High House Road was flooded east of Cary Parkway.

There were reports of trees down in Apex at Jenks Carpenter and Holt roads.

Rodney Dancy, Wilson County preparedness coordinator, said as many as a dozen homes there had either moderate or severe damage. He said the storm recalled memories of violent weather just six months ago.

"We were hit back in November and it came in the middle of the night," Dancy said. "We did lose one life here and one in Johnston County."

Ron Eisenhauer's Wilson County home was damaged by the severe weather. He sought safety in a bathroom.

“I’m happy that I’m here. We had just finished doing major remodeling on it (the house). So it's history now,” Eisenhauer said.

Alice Guthrie said a fast burst of wind ripped roofs off several homes and barns about a quarter-mile from her home, which was not damaged. As the storm closed in, the 38-year-old mother of three shepherded her children next door to her parents to watch news reports.

"All of a sudden the lights went out and I got up and looked out the window and I could see the tornado ... now whether or not it was one I don't know. I said, 'Get in the basement,'" she said, recalling watching trees swaying in circles.

"I kid you not, I don't think we were down there one minute before it was calm again," she said.

In Johnston County, emergency personnel set up a staging area at the Antioch Fire Department, where an apparent tornado reportedly missed the firehouse by mere yards.

"When I thought it was close enough we could take a direct hit, we had the guys get up under all the trucks,” said Fire Chief Kendall Hocutt, with the Antioch Fire Department.

Melanie Proctor, a spokeswoman for Johnston County, said one home was destroyed in the county and that officials were out searching for any signs of additional home damage.

"The line of damage appears to be about 6 miles long – trees down, power lines down," Proctor said.

"We came up on the tornado. It was already on the ground, (and) debris clearly defined in the tornado,” Jacob Gore, Johnston County resident.

National Weather Service said the series of storms was the result of a front stalled across the state from northeast to southwest, combined with an upper-level system. Temperatures north of the front had dropped into the upper 50s to low 60s, while south of the front, temperatures were in the 70s, creating the stormy conditions just after 5:30 p.m.

What to do if you spot a funnel cloud

Mobile home residents are especially vulnerable to tornadoes. If a tornado warning has been issued, mobile home residents should get to a pre-arranged shelter immediately.

At schools, the safest part of the building is in the hallway with no windows. Office workers are urged to get under something sturdy, like a desk or table.

Drivers who see a tornado forming or approaching should leave the car and take shelter in a ditch or some other low-lying area.

For those at home, the safest place is in a basement. If there is not one available, they should go into a hallway or closet.