Tornado Kills at Least Seven in NC - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


Tornado Kills at Least Seven in NC

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(Riegelwood, NC-AP) November 16, 2006 - A tornado ripped apart a mobile home park in a tiny riverside community in North Carolina early Thursday, killing at least seven people and raising the death toll from a devastating band of thunderstorms sweeping across the south to 11.

Officials searching for victims amid the wreckage of Riegelwood cautioned that death toll still could rise.

Two other storm victims died in car crashes early Thursday as heavy rain pelted North Carolina, a utility worker checking powerlines during the storm was electrocuted in South Carolina, and a man died Wednesday when a tornado struck his home in Louisiana as the storms began their path of destruction across the South.

In North Carolina, dozens of homes were destroyed when the tornado struck the Cape Fear River community of Riegelwood, about 20 miles west of the coastal city of Wilmington.

Searchers had found seven bodies in the wreckage by midday, and "that number very well may go up," said County Commissioner Chairman Kip Godwin, the designated spokesman for the county's emergency management office.

"When a tornado hits a mobile home, it's probably much more devastating," Godwin said. "Most of these homes were blown off their foundations and are now just piles of debris."

Alton Edwards, a member of the volunteer Acme-Delco-Riegelwood Fire and Rescue team, said storm struck "with very little warning."

"There were cars on top of one another," he said. "It's just about as bad as it gets."

Officials at hospitals in Columbus County and neighboring New Hanover County said they were treating 22 people with storm-related injuries and that at least five, including four children, were in critical condition. Easley activated the State Emergency Response Team and sent in emergency crews.

Ron Steve, meteorologist with the Weather Service in Wilmington, said the tornado touched down in the Riegelwood area shortly after 6:30 a.m.

"The one really intense cell at that time of the morning moved onshore near the state line and as it got over land within a few minutes it delivered a very strong circulation that put down a tornado," Steve said.

The storms were expected to clear out of the area by afternoon, but serious dangers remained.

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 flooding streets.

Off shore, a Coast Guard helicopter lowered a pump to a fishing boat that was taking on water in 15-foot seas about 50 miles southeast of Charleston. There was one crewman aboard the 34-foot boat, which the Coast Guard escorted back to land.

The storms that 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.

A tornado cut a path about two miles wide and three or four miles long in Greensburg, La., north of New Orleans, toppling trees and damaging buildings and power lines, said Maj. Michael Martin of the St. Helena Parish Sheriff's Office. A 43-year-old man was killed when the trailer he was in was destroyed, he said.

"That home just exploded," said Gordon Burgess, president of neighboring Tangipahoa Parish.

In Montgomery, Ala., high winds destroyed a skating rink Wednesday soon after 31 preschoolers and four adults fled to the only part of the building that turned out to be safe.

One child suffered a broken bone and another a cut to the head, but everyone else emerged unharmed from the crumpled wreck of the Fun Zone Skate Center, which doubled as a day-care facility.

In Mississippi's Lamar County, emergency operations center director James Smith said a possible tornado struck a subdivision outside Sumrall around 2:50 a.m., damaging or destroying 11 homes.

Smith said six people were taken to hospitals from the Sumrall area, and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said two other people were injured in Greene County.

In North Carolina, fallen trees blocked roads in Lincoln County, and another possible tornado struck about midnight in eastern Gaston County, where a steeple was destroyed and part of the roof ripped off a church. Duke Energy reported nearly 3,000 customers without power in Gaston County, about 1,200 outages in Iredell County, and nearly 900 outages in Lincoln County.

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