Central NC tornadoes kill two residents

November 14, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
A cluster of strong thunderstorms sweeping across Johnston, Harnett and Wilson County spawned tornadoes that killed two people Saturday. Officials say several people were injured and a number of homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The highest ranked twister was an EF3, about 140 to 145mph, in Elm City. It left an eight mile long path of destruction. The stormed killed 11-year-old Joshua Wiggins. He was asleep when a tornado tore his grandparents' home right off of its foundation.

In the neighboring community of Kenly, about 35 miles southeast of Raleigh, an EF2 tornado (about 135mph) touched down leaving an almost five mile path.

Police spokeswoman Patty McQuillan said Marilyn Gomez was found dead amid the rubble that was once her home. The only part of the Gomez home recognizable is the front porch the family shared.

Gomez was also asleep when the storm hit. Her husband barely made it out, but Eyewitness News has been told he is going to be okay.

Gomez's son says he hopes his mother died quickly that she didn't feel any pain. He says his father will eventually get over his broken ribs and his punctured lung, but neighbors feel he may never get over the heartache and what he lost.

The Gomez's home is one of at least a half-dozen houses destroyed by the storms that also knocked down trees and power lines. Residents emerged at daybreak to find their homes in ruins, cars flipped over and debris strewn about.

"It was pretty massive destruction," Johnston County emergency management coordinator Derrick Duggins said. "It goes to show the magnitude of what natural weather can do."

In Johnston County, family and friends piled up mattresses, took pictures of the damage and filled garbage bags with trash from Mark Stephenson's one-story brick home, leveled by the storm.

Winds tossed family portraits into the woods some 200 yards away and the skeleton of a new camper the Stephensons had just bought sat nearby.

One half of Stephenson's home was flattened, while a tree had fallen through the other half, on top of his 19-year-old daughter's bedroom. She was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

"It's hard to believe, it's hard to take in," Stephenson said. "We've got our lives and our health, so we're good to go."

His 14-year-old son, Hunter, pointed to what used to be his bedroom -- now just a pile of bricks and beams. The room was being remodeled, so Hunter had been sleeping in the living room.

"I'm lucky," he said. "It's crazy, if I would have been in there, I would have been dead."

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, who represents the area, surveyed the damage Saturday, describing beams in the home where the woman was found as spaghetti-like.

Gov. Mike Easley will meet with local officials and emergency responders to discuss storm damage in Johnston and Wilson Counties Monday AT 11:30 a.m. at the Kenly volunteer fire department. He will make a tour of the area and meet with local officials prior to the meeting.

A Red Cross shelter was opened at a church and National Weather Service officials were sending crews out to survey the damage.


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