Tornado Victims Pick Up The Pieces

People displaced by a devastating tornado that killed eight and sent at least a dozen others to hospitals returned Friday to their ravaged community as damage assessment teams came to help them so they could start cleaning up.

Four people remained in "very, very critical condition," Gov. Mike Easley said during a visit to the region.

The storm ripped through a cluster of trailers and an adjacent neighborhood of brick houses early Thursday morning in Riegelwood, where there are no tornado warning sirens. Officials closed the neighborhood overnight to prevent looting.

"Most of them didn't get the information. The biggest warning they got — they heard that train-like sound," Easley told CBS Early Show. "A lot of them did take cover in the center of the modular homes and it saved a lot of them, we think."

Darryl McNair said he was sleeping when the tornado picked up his mobile home and moved it 50 feet from its foundation.

"I heard a loud crash," McNair, 34, said during a break from picking through rubble. "I was in the bed. You could feel the house moving. I was in shock."

On Friday, he remained shaken.

"My whole life was in that house," he said, crying. "Everything that was me was in that house. How could you lose everything in so short a time? I struggled to get that stuff and now it's all out in the road like it was nothing."

McNair's home landed across the street in the front yard of Charles Faulk, who said the winds only appeared to have damaged his air conditioner and pulled a small deck from him home.

"I'm more than lucky. I'm blessed," said Faulk, 47. "This is the first time I've seen devastation like this. And I never want to see it again. It's hit home and it's real. We're all survivors. And we have to move on, pick up and keep going."


Easley said he will review the information gathered by the assessment teams to determine what kind of assistance the victims of the tornado may be eligible to receive.

"We will do everything we can to not disrupt people's lives," Easley said.

The tornado was part of a devastating line of thunderstorms that swept across the South on Wednesday and Thursday, killing 12. Of the 11 killed Thursday, eight lived in Riegelwood, a small town on the Cape Fear River about 20 miles west of coastal Wilmington. Several people remained hospitalized Friday, including at least two children in critical condition.

Hospital officials in Pitt County would not release an update Friday on two other children in critical condition transferred there Thursday.

The National Weather Service said Friday that three tornadoes also touched down in the western part of the state — destroying about a dozen homes and downing trees in Lincoln, Iredell and Gaston Counties. Officials said five people were injured in those storm, none critically.

"You can plot the damage. We can lay a ruler down on a map and follow the damage up the county," said David Martin, emergency management director in Iredell County.

In Riegelwood, Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten said authorities ended their search for bodies Thursday night and had accounted for everyone. Still, he said the county's water search team was going to dive into a pond off N.C. 87 on Friday to make sure no one landed in the water.

The storms began Wednesday, unleashing tornadoes and straight-line winds that overturned mobile homes and tractor-trailers, uprooted trees and knocked down power lines across the South.

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. Elsewhere in North Carolina, two people died in car crashes as heavy rain pounded the state, dropping as much as five inches in some areas.

Off the coast, a Coast Guard helicopter lowered a pump to a fishing boat that was taking on water in 15-foot seas about 50 miles from Charleston, S.C. One crewman was aboard the 34-foot boat, which the Coast Guard escorted back to land.

When the tornado struck Riegelwood just after 6:30 a.m. Thursday, residents learned of the storm from radio and television reports.

"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 by the storm, and dozens slept at a shelter established at a nearby elementary school.

The storm knocked out power to 45,000 customers in North Carolina, but the electricity was back on in most places by mid-afternoon.

In South Carolina, utility worker Ken Butler, 41, was electrocuted as he worked from a bucket truck to clear power lines that had been downed when the thunderstorms moved through Bamberg. Record-setting rain in that state also flooded streets.

In Virginia, heavy rain caused flash flooding, stranded some travelers and residents in high water and closed dozens of roads. Police also responded to numerous car crashes caused by the foul weather.