Storm leaves 'miracle' survival, damage in western N.C.

Posted October 27, 2010 5:23 a.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2010 11:50 a.m. EDT

— A possible tornado demolished three homes and injured 11 people in North Carolina, and tornado watches spread over three southeastern states Wednesday as a massive storm blew east after lashing the central U.S.

An emergency responder said a woman and three children in Vale, N.C., suffered cuts and minor injuries but survived a storm late Tuesday that tore apart their mobile home.

“It was a miracle they survived,” said Leslie Bowen, an emergency medical technician who found the family standing amid the wreckage. “It was just total chaos. ... Everywhere you walked was just debris."

(Severe weather is possible in North Carolina overnight Wednesday. Get the forecast.)

Yolanda Corona’s family was left wondering where to live after the storm blew out their living room windows, knocked down the chimney and sent a tree through the roof.

Ten relatives were gathered in Corona’s home watching television Tuesday night when the wind hit.

“We thought we were going to die. We were just so scared. We didn’t have time to do anything. We all just listened and prayed for our lives,” Jessica Vargas, Corona’s 18-year-old granddaughter, recalled Wednesday morning.

Nobody was seriously cut. Corona suffered some cuts on her leg.

A second possible tornado was reported in Claremont, N.C., a town in Catawba County about 25 miles northeast of Vale, according to the National Weather Service. A tractor-trailer and several cars were overturned in Claremont.

At one point, a tornado warning was also issued for Halifax County and Mecklenburg County, Va., but only downed trees were reported there.

The storm making its way through a big chunk of the nation brought a bit of everything: strong winds, rain, tornadoes and even some snow for parts of the Midwest. A blizzard warning was in effect for parts of North Dakota, where the National Weather Service reported as much as 8 inches had fallen. Down South, a swath of tornado watches stretched from central Mississippi across Alabama to north Georgia early Wednesday.

The storm tore into the Midwest a day earlier with wind gusts of up to 81 mph, snapping trees and power lines, ripping off roofs and delaying flights.

The unusual system mesmerized meteorologists because of its size and because it had barometric pressure that was similar to a Category 3 hurricane, but with much less destructive power.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the system’s pressure reading Tuesday was among the lowest ever in a non-tropical storm in the mainland U.S. Spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said the storm was within the top five in terms of low pressure, which brings greater winds.

The fast-moving storm blew in from the Pacific Northwest on the strength of a jet stream that is about one-third stronger than normal for this time of year, said David Imy, operations chief at the NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. As the system moved into the nation’s heartland, it drew in warm air needed to fuel thunderstorms. Then the winds intensified and tornadoes formed.

Tornadoes whirled through Racine County, Wis., where two people were injured when a section of roof was torn off a tractor factory, and in Van Wert County, Ohio, near the Indiana border, where a barn was flattened and flipped over a tractor-trailer and camper. A tornado also touched down in Peotone, Ill., where three people were injured when a home’s roof came off, and twisters were suspected in several other states.

An apparent tornado on the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga, Tenn., caused an accident that led to the closure of the highway and injured several people.

The National Weather Service confirmed that eight tornadoes struck in Indiana Tuesday, but that no serious damage or injuries were reported. It said Ohio saw three twisters.