Weather

Death toll at 22; 130 injured in NC storms

Posted April 17, 2011 5:57 a.m. EDT
Updated April 17, 2011 11:01 p.m. EDT

— Twenty-two people were killed and more than 130 injured by tornadoes and severe storms that struck at least 20 counties in North Carolina Saturday, state officials said Sunday.

The fatalities occurred in Wake, Johnston, Cumberland, Harnett, Lee, Bertie and Bladen counties, said Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

The worst-hit area appears to be Bertie County, where authorities say 11 people are dead. About 75 people were going from door-to-door looking for victims and survivors Sunday.

Several of the dead were all from one family, Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said.

"It's very devastating. These kinds of fatalities are not something we're used to," he said.

Some people survived even as their homes were torn apart around them, he said.

"There were several cases of houses being totally demolished except for one room, and that's where the people were," Lamb said. "They survived."

Rickey Freeman of Bertie County's emergency management team said the county is no stranger to natural disasters – hurricanes Floyd and Isabel struck the region, as well as a less powerful tornado in May 2009 – but that residents need state and federal help to deal with the aftermath of Saturday's tornado.

"In Bertie, we just deal with these acts of Mother Nature and pull together and do the best we can," Freeman said. "These people have lost everything. There's debris in trees. Some people, they just lost everything."

Kim Lafferty's in-laws were killed inside the house they'd lived in for 27 years.

"I just had a gut feeling when I couldn't get them on the phone. I knew how close it had hit and I just had a feeling," Lafferty said.

She and her husband were watching the news from their home in Conway. When they couldn't reach his parents, they headed to Bertie County.

"We got here right before they found the last body," she said.

Raleigh authorities confirmed that three family members died in the Stony Brook North mobile home park, off Brentwood Road. Christina Alvarez and four children hid inside a closet when the tornado swept through the area. But a tree fell on the home and three of the children – Daniel Nino, 9, Kevin Coronado, 3, and Osvaldo Coronado, 8 – were killed instantly, authorities said Sunday.

Alvarez was holding an infant girl, who was listed in critical condition at WakeMed Sunday evening. Alvarez, who was knocked out by the blast, is the mother of the infant and Nino. The Coronado boys are her nephews.

"It's utter destruction inside the mobile home park. Last night, I actually went up to the mobile home where the children were killed. It's really bad," said Raleigh police Maj. J.C. Perry. "It's unlike anything I've ever seen before."

About half of the park's 200 mobile homes are unlivable after the storm, police said.

Peggy Mosley, 54, who has lived in the park for 25 years, said she grabbed small pillows and hunkered down in her small bathroom.

"I went and got into my small bathroom and just sat in there and cried and prayed until it was over," Mosley said.

Angela McCaizie, who lives farther up the street, said she was cooking when she saw the winds and rain pick up. She grabbed her children, nephew and brother and brought them inside.

When the storm was over, McCaizie, her husband and brother checked on neighbors. She said she saw several people bleeding and others with broken bones. McCaizie also said one resident ran up to her shouting, "Please help me! Please help me! I need 911."

"It was horrible," McCaizie said.

Cumberland County authorities said that one person died on Vault Field Road in Linden.

The National Weather Service received reports that three people died in Bladen County, two around Broadway in Lee County and one died on Juniper Church Road near Benson in Johnston County.

Some of the 80 people who required hospitalization suffered severe injuries, Jarema said.

Marine officials said that a child was seriously injured at Camp Lejeune and flown to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville.

Cumberland County authorities said they treated 50 people at field clinics and took 35 to local hospitals. Seven people were injured in Sampson County.