At least 45 people have been killed after a devastating storm, that spawned tornadoes, flash floods and hail as big as softballs, roared through the South and gaining steam in North Carolina and Virginia.
Emergency crews searched for victims in hard-hit swaths of North Carolina, where 62 tornadoes were reported from the worst spring storm in two decades to hit the state, according to the National Weather Service and reports from several states.
Authorities said at least three more people are dead in neighboring Virginia during the storm’s passage Saturday before the sprawling, potent storm bands moved eastward over the Atlantic.
The storms claimed its first lives Thursday night in Oklahoma, then roared through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Seven people each were killed in Arkansas and Alabama, two people in Oklahoma and one person in Mississippi, authorities have said.
In North Carolina, Gov. Beverly Perdue declared a state of emergency after reporting fatalities in at least four counties. But she declined to immediately confirm an exact number of deaths. She said the 62 tornadoes reported were the most since March 1984, when a storm system spawned 22 twisters in the Carolinas that killed 57 people — 42 in North Carolina — and injured hundreds
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody in North Carolina who has been through this horrible day,” Perdue said. Search and rescue teams operated through the night, Perdue said, with damage assessments starting in earnest Sunday after daylight.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in these areas that are most heavily impacted,” said Doug Hoell, the state’s director of emergency management. “There’s a lot of debris out there that’s got to be cleaned up.”
In Virginia, disaster officials said one apparent tornado ripped more than 12 miles long through Gloucester County, uprooting trees and pounding homes to rubble while claiming three lives. Another person was confirmed dead and another remained missing early Sunday after flash flooding elsewhere in Virginia.
In North Carolina, rooftops were ripped off stores, trees were plucked from the ground and scores of homes were damaged. More than 250,000 people went without power in North Carolina before emergency utility crews began repairing downed lines. But scattered outages were expected to linger at least until Monday before power was fully restored.
Among areas hit by power outages was Raleigh (see the photo above), a bustling city of more than 400,000 people where some of the bigger downtown thoroughfares were blocked by fallen trees early Sunday.
A mechanic at a tyre shop in the state capital, Raleigh, said he had taken shelter in his truck while co-workers squeezed into an interior room when the storm hit. “It was one hell of a storm,” Bryan Jackson told Reuters news agency. “I started to see the roof vibrate and then the roof separated and it was gone.”
Police and rescue crews began conducting house-to-house searches later Saturday at a mobile home park in north Raleigh, where the storm snapped some trees in half, ripped others out of the ground and tossed some trailers from one side of a street to the other.
In Sanford, about 40 miles southwest of Raleigh, a busy shopping district was pummeled by the storms, with some businesses losing rooftops in what observers described as a ferocious tornado.
The Lowe’s Home Improvement Center in Sanford looked flattened, with jagged beams and wobbly siding sticking up from the pancaked entrance. Cars in the parking lot were flipped by the winds. “It’s very, very bad here,” said Monica Elliott, who works at the nearby Brick City Grill. “We saw a tornado that just rode up over the restaurant.”
Remarkably, no one was seriously injured at the Lowe’s, thanks to a quick-thinking manager who herded more than 100 people into a back area with no windows to shatter. “It was really just a bad scene,” said Jeff Blocker, Lowe’s regional vice president for eastern North Carolina. “You’re just amazed that no one was injured.”
In Virginia, Department of Emergency Management spokesman Bob Spieldenner, said an apparent tornado ploughed through communities of Gloucester County, destroying or damaging homes, uprooting trees in a quiet farming and fishing region along the Chesapeake Bay.
Authorities said at least three deaths had been confirmed in Gloucester County and at least 60 were injured, most with minor injuries. Spieldenner said one person was killed when a vehicle ran into flash flooding near Waynesboro and another person was missing and a third rescued.
He reported homes and mobile homes damaged and destroyed in a series of other Virginia counties and flash flooding west of Charlottesville that prompted water rescues – including four people rescued unhurt from a car that had plunged into deep water flowing over a street. [via The Telegraph (UK), BBC, NY Times and Fox News]