The disaster early Thursday brought the two-day death toll from a devastating line of thunderstorms that swept across the South to 12.
Kip Godwin, chairman of the Columbus County Commission in North Carolina, said authorities had concluded their search of the area where the eight people died — a cluster of mobile homes and an adjacent neighborhood of brick homes — and had accounted for everyone.
However, officials said they will conduct one last sweep for victims Friday, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Acosta.
"Most of them didn't get the information. The biggest warning they got — they heard that train-like sound," North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley told CBS Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "A lot of them did take cover in the center of the modular homes and it saved a lot of them, we think."
Easley said that while some mobile home communities have sirens to warn residents of possible tornadoes, Riegelwood did not.
Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten said several of the dead were found within 200 yards of where the tornado touched down.
"We assume they were literally consumed by the tornado," he said.
Twelve people were hospitalized, including four children in critical condition, hospital officials said.
The storms, which began Wednesday, unleashed tornadoes and straight-line winds that overturned mobile homes and tractor-trailers, uprooted trees and knocked down power lines across the South.
In Maryland, emergency crews performed several water rescues as dozens of people were trapped in their vehicles in high or fast-moving water, said Montgomery Fire and Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer.
Three freight cars derailed in Bowie, Maryland, and investigators were trying to determine whether the storm caused the wreck, CSX Corp. spokesman Gary Sease said. The empty coal hoppers jumped off tracks shared with Amtrak trains, bringing down some power lines. No one was injured.
In Louisiana, a man died Wednesday when a tornado struck his home. In South Carolina, a utility worker checking power lines Thursday during the storm was electrocuted. In North Carolina, two people died in car crashes as heavy rain pounded the state, dropping as much as five inches in some areas.
The tornado that struck Riegelwood — situated on the Cape Fear River about 20 miles west of Wilmington — hit shortly after 6:30 a.m. Thursday.
"There was no warning. There was no time," said Cissy Kennedy, a radiologist's assistant who lives in the area. "It just came out from nowhere."
As many as 40 mobile homes were damaged before the tornado crossed a highway and leveled three brick homes. About 100 people were left homeless, and dozens planned to sleep at a shelter at a nearby elementary school. Two of the dead are children, reports Acosta. Of the 19 people injured in the hospital, four are children too, all in critical condition.
County Commissioner Sammie Jacobs said that four to five mobile homes were demolished, and that there were "houses on top of cars and cars on top of houses."
"We've stepped across bodies to get to debris and search for other bodies here this morning," Jacobs said.
The storm knocked out power to 45,000 customers in North Carolina. But the electricity was back on in most places by mid-afternoon.
The storm system also caused minor flooding in the Washington area, where rescuers grabbed several people stranded in their vehicles, and slowed commuters along most of the East Coast.
The storm also knocked out power, which delayed Amtrak service in the Northeast corridor, spokeswoman Tracy Connell said. Service was halted between Baltimore and Washington until at least 6 a.m. Friday, Connell said.