Tornado swarm demolishes dozens of NC homes

More than 450 homes in North Carolina were damaged or destroyed on Saturday, when 62 tornado touchdowns were reported in at least 20 counties.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 450 homes in North Carolina were damaged or destroyed on Saturday, when 62 tornadoes reportedly touched down in at least 20 counties.

Of those, more than 60 homes were destroyed, said Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived in North Carolina to begin assessing damage Sunday.

Gov. Bev Perdue declared a state of emergency across North Carolina, as did officials in more than a dozen counties, including Cumberland, Halifax and Wake. The state of emergency begins the process of applying for federal aid and allows utility workers and truckers to work longer hours than usual to help in relief efforts.

"Despite all the damage, the thing we heard the most today was how grateful people are to be alive," Perdue said in a press conference. "I ask that everyone do what they can to support the Red Cross and local shelters, and to keep everyone affected in your prayers."

Perdue toured damaged areas in Sanford, Dunn, Fayetteville and Bladenboro on Sunday. She planned to tour Bertie, Halifax and Wilson counties Monday.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan also planned to visit affected areas, and U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers visited Lee County.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama called Perdue Sunday morning to offer federal assistance in recovering from the disaster.

Across the Carolinas and Virgina, the National Weather Service recorded 87 tornadoes and 118 instances of other wind damage.

WRAL meteorologist Mike Moss explained that doesn't mean that there were actually 87 tornadoes. Some tornadoes might have touched down multiple times.

Some super-cell storms that crossed the state stayed together for 150 to 190 miles, Moss said.

Farms and poultry companies across the state also sustained heavy storm damage. A spokesman for the state agriculture department estimated Sunday that over 80,000 chickens were killed. 

Bertie County

The worst-hit area appeared to be Bertie County, where at least 11 people died. County Manager Zee Lamb said a tornado stayed on the ground for about 10 miles between Askewville and Colerain.

About 75 people were moving from house to house in the area to check for injured residents and ensure everyone was accounted for, Lamb said. One trailer park was destroyed.

"Several of the guys doing search and rescue are veterans of Iraq, and they said some of the areas looked worse than they ever saw in Iraq," Lamb said.

Wake County

The storm cut a mile-wide swath through Raleigh, snapping some trees in half and ripping others from the ground.

Emergency crews, rescue workers and firefighters had surrounded a section of the Stony Brook North mobile home park, off Brentwood Road, piled high with trees and the remnants of dwellings. More than half of the Stony Brook community's 200 mobile home parks are unlivable after the storm, police said Sunday night.

A home in the Cardinal Grove subdivision, near Louisburg Road, was torn off its foundation and demolished.

Near downtown Raleigh, a tornado blew through South Saunders Street, snapping power lines and downing utility poles. Some trees clipped guy-wires that supported the transmission tower for WCLY-AM and WQDR-AM, toppling the tower. The street is expected to remain closed through Monday morning.

Dormitories and the student center at Shaw University were damaged, but no one was injured. University officials said Sunday that classes would be suspended for the rest of the spring semester. Eight days of classes and a week of exams remained, and officials said grades would be issued based on work already completed.

"While we exist to educate these young men and women, our first priority is their safety and well being," Shaw President Irma McClaurin said in a statement.

Other areas around Raleigh with severe damage include the Buffaloe, New Hope and Yonkers roads areas. Damage was also reported along Avent Ferry Road and N.C. Highway 55 in Holly Springs.

The Raleigh Yard Waste Center, 900 North New Hope Road, was open Sunday to accept storm debris. The normal disposal fee was being waived for homeowners and contractors. City officials cautioned there might be delays getting in and out of the center.

Lee County

In Sanford, a Lowe's Home Improvement Center was smashed by the storm, according to police and witnesses. None of the employees or customers were injured.

Homes were also damaged in the Saint Andrew's neighborhood.

Cumberland County

Eighty injuries and one death were reported in Cumberland County, and the worst damage in Fayetteville was in the Yadkin and Reilly road areas, where the Family Lodge Apartments on Reilly Road sustained significant damage.

Damaged neighborhoods remained closed to traffic Sunday morning. Yadkin Road was closed from Santa Fe Drive to the Fort Bragg gate, and Reilly Road was closed from Morganton Road to the post.

Affected residents were allowed to walk into the neighborhoods. The city planned to run buses from the Food Lion parking lot at Morganton and Reilly roads into the area, but police said it was unsafe to do so.

Fayetteville officials declared a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in the affected areas, including the Lagrange, Summerhill, Cottonade, Stonegate, Fairfield Farms and Summerchase neighborhoods.

Cumberland County Schools officials said Ben Martin Elementary School, at 430 N. Reilly Road, was so badly damaged that classes cannot be held there for the rest of the school year. Officials planned to meet Sunday afternoon to determine where to send the school's 580 students for the next two months.

Eastern and central North Carolina

Viewers reported that a mobile home park in Micro in Johnston County was destroyed. The storms damaged homes and businesses for a half-mile along Blackman Road.

The storms cut a 20-mile-long swath of damage in Sampson County, from N.C. Highway 242 through Bonnettsville and Clinton to the northeastern border with Wayne County. Homes, businesses and swine and poultry farms were damaged.

Wilson also sustained heavy damages to homes and businesses around Tarboro Street, Forest Hills and Cranberry Ridge in the city and around Raeford Road, Quaker Road and Spring Hill in the county.

Significant damage was reported in the Dunn area of Harnett County. Ammonia leaked at the Food Lion warehouse, off Long Branch Road and N.C. Highway 301.

Roanoke Rapids city officials said they were struck by two tornadoes, damaging at least 20 homes and businesses, including the local Employment Security Commission office. The Guardian Care Rest Home was damaged, but no residents were hurt.

City officials have enacted a curfew between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and they urged people to obey police and stay off the roads as much as possible.

About 150 homes were damaged in Greene County, and Greene County Middle School, which served about 600 students, was demolished, a county spokesman said Sunday. There were no reports of serious injuries, he said.

About 10 homes were demolished at Camp Lejeune's Tarawa Terrace II housing area, officials said. Between 40 and 60 homes sustained significant structural damage and another 40 to 60 homes had minor damage, including downed trees in yards, broken windows and damaged gutters. Officials said the Tarawa Terrace I Primary School would be closed Monday and Tuesday.

A tree fell on at least one house in Person County, temporarily trapping a family.

Scotland County officials said they received only minor damage.

There were further reports of storm damage in Union, Caswell, Rowan, Johnston, Wayne, Guilford and Alamance counties, according to state public safety department spokeswoman Julia Jarema.

Power outages

Crews are working to restore power in North Carolina, where more than 230,000 people lost service at the height of the storm. As of 5 p.m. Sunday, about 47,500 Progress Energy customers and 32,000 customers of electrical cooperatives in eastern North Carolina were still without power.

The outages included about 23,000 in Wake County, 8,500 in Sampson County, 5,400 in Johnston County, 4,800 in Cumberland County and nearly 2,000 in Lee County. Almost the entire town of Clinton in Sampson County was without power, and Progress Energy officials said it could be 8 p.m. before service is restored.

Outages were scattered across central and eastern North Carolina.

Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes said 1,000 workers, including some from Duke Energy and other utilities, were working to restore power. Most areas would be back on line by midnight Tuesday. he said, but transmission infrastructure needed to be completely rebuilt in some areas.

More than 50,000 Time Warner Cable customers also were without service from Raleigh to the coast, officials said. Although some of the outages are power-related, the company experienced some damage to its fiber systems from the storm system, they said.


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