RALEIGH, N.C. — At least a dozen homes were damaged and three minor injuries reported after a round of storms on Tuesday. North Carolina State University's bell tower was also damaged by lightning.
One minor injury was reported in Wilson County, where officials said they think a tornado touched down near the town of Sims in the eastern part of the state. James Hinnant sprained his ankle while inside of his home during the storm.
Hinnant had forgotten to close his garage door and was in the process of going down the hall to shut it when he was injured.
"I was trapped on the floor for about 30 seconds," Hinnant said. Those 30 seconds saved his life. While Hinnant was trapped, the roof above his bedroom collapsed.
"Had I been back in this area I think it could have been pretty bad," Hinnant said.
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.
The National Weather Service sent teams Wednesday to check damage where six tornadoes reportedly touched down. NWS meteorologists said tornadoes hit in Duplin, Johnston, Pitt, Nash, Wake and Wilson counties.
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."
'I'm happy that I'm here'
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.
In Johnston County, about $1.6 million worth of damage was caused by the storm, county spokesman Robin Gurgainus said. Twenty homes and two storage buidlings sustained damage. Eight homes were significantly damaged. There were no injuries reported.
Johnston County resident Debby Davis said she and her husband survived the the tornado by taking cover in a closet.
North Carolina Baptist Men volunteers were helping to cleanup and remove debris on Wednesday.
"The line of damage appears to be about 6 miles long – trees down, power lines down," said Melanie Proctor, a spokeswoman for Johnston County.
"We came up on the tornado. It was already on the ground, (and) debris clearly defined in the tornado,” said 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.