Perdue: Most catastrophic damage ever seen

April 16, 2011 9:00:00 PM PDT
Fast moving storms blew through most of North Carolina Saturday leaving widespread damage in its wake.

Click here to watch live weather coverage

During a news conference Sunday, Governor Beverly Perdue said the storm damage was the "most catastrophic damage I've ever seen."

She said she spoke to President Barack Obama and he told her to do whatever it takes to help North Carolinians.

Perdue also said she told churchgoers to give their Sunday tithes to storm victims. She says despite her experience with natural disasters, she was almost moved to tears seeing the devastation.

Damage reports continued to roll in Sunday as emergency management crews begin surveying the areas hit by the widespread tornadoes.

North Carolina Emergency Management announced Sunday morning that they have received reports of 22 fatalities from Bertie, Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Johnston, Lee and Wake counties. More than 80 people have suffered injuries after at least 20 counties reported tornadoes.

Emergency crews are still searching for victims in the hard-hit parts of the state. Authorities warn the death toll is likely to rise further as searchers probe shattered homes and businesses.

Early estimates indicate that more than 60 homes have been completely destroyed and more than 400 others have sustained damage.

Governor Beverly Perdue declared a state of emergency for North Carolina Saturday evening after as many as 62 tornadoes touched down across the state.

That is 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.

Perdue, along with state and federal officials, are surveying the damage across the state.

"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."

At least 10 people are confirmed dead in Bertie County, county manager Zee Lamb said.

According to the National Weather Service, one fatality was reported on Juniper Church Road in Benson and another one in Cumberland County.

There are two fatalities in Lee County and three in Bladen due to the storm.

At the Stony Brook Mobile Home Park in Raleigh, three children were killed after the area sustained major damage and many homes were destroyed.

A source at the scene told ABC11 that the 3-year-old, 8-year-old and 9-year-old died when a tree fell on their home while they were in a bathtub.

Raleigh damage

A significant amount of Raleigh's damage was in the South Saunders Street area, near Western Boulevard and I-40 in downtown. Authorities are still working to make sure there is no one trapped in their homes or any of the buildings that sustained major damage.

"I encourge people not to come downtown unless they need to," said Mayor Charles Meeker on Sunday. "Lets just be safe and be smart."

The mayor also says the City will be picking up curb debris let over from the storm at no charge.

Meanwhile, neighborhoods surrounding Shaw University, Buffalo Road and New Hope Road area and Yonkers Road area were also impacted by the storm.

Shaw University announced Sunday that it is suspending classes for remainder of semester due to the devastating damage done to its campus.

Click here to read more about Shaw

Saint Augustine's College, which also is located in downtown Raleigh, continues to recover from tornado damage. Power has been restored to several campus buildings and many of the downed trees have been removed. Classes have been canceled for Monday, April 18, however, essential employees are expected to report at their regularly scheduled times. The cafeteria will operate on a holiday schedule, and the library is open. Classes are expected to resume Tuesday, April 19. Please continue to check the school's website and inclement weather line, 919-516-5092, for updates.

Cumberland County damage

Fayetteville also was hit hard by the storms. Severe damage has been reported in three neighborhoods, mostly in the northern part of the city.

Several homes and businesses along Yadkin Road, Reilly Road and near the Pine Forest area have been severely damaged by the storm.

"I don't have anything, nothing ... we have nothing," Fayetteville resident Tina Palmer said. "We saw it coming, my husband said, 'run to the bathroom,' we went to the bathroom and we had all six children in the tub ... the windows broke out, the roof went , the walls went ... there's nothing left, there's a tree on my daughter's truck ... I don't know where my cats are ... (crying) I don't know where anything is. We just lost everything. I don't know where we are going to go."

Officials in Cumberland County have activated their Emergency Operations Center and requested assistance from the state for rescue, EMS and Search and Rescue/Collapse Team.

A curfew has been declared again for Sunday from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. in the areas that were devastated by Saturday's storms.

Officials say due to the curfew, residents who are entering back into neighborhoods and cannot stay the night in their homes are reminded to retrieve their medications and other essential items.

Storm debris is blocking multiple access points onto Fort Bragg and power is out on base, but no one was hurt. Fort Bragg will be closed on Sunday.

The Goodyear tire plant also sustained damage to its building. Plant officials are still trying to assess the extent of the damage. A worker did suffer minor injuries, but no one else was hurt.

The plant resumed normal operations at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

During a press conference Sunday morning, Cumberland County officials said they are still assessing the damages across the county. They say hopefully in the next few days they will know the extent of structural damage to homes and businesses.

Officials say Ben Martin Elementary will be closed for the year and Pine Forest High School will be closed Monday due to extensive damage. They are still assessing whether other schools in the county will be open Monday due to power outages.

Click here to watch entire press conference

More damage and aftermath

Daybreak Sunday brought news of an at least 10-person death toll in Bertie County, a place of about 21,000 people about 130 miles east of Raleigh. The tornado moved through about 7 p.m. Saturday, sweeping homes from their foundations, demolishing others and flipping cars.

In Wilson County, Wilson Emergency Management says no injuries were reported, but multiple homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed after a tornado touched down in the downtown area. Witnesses say they saw the tornado touch down around Tarboro Street and Forest Hills Road and around Cranberry Ridge. Outages have been reported due to downed power lines throughout the city. Utility crews are working to restore power but say it may be a while before customers are out of the dark.

The National Weather Service also had reports of tornadoes in Lee and Alamance counties, but those reports have not been confirmed.

An ABC11 viewer submitted video of what appears to be a funnel cloud in Lee County. Click here to watch.

A Lowe's Home Improvement store in Sanford was nearly demolished as customers shopped. Dozens of people were saved when a manager corralled them into the back of the building to avoid the approaching storm. No injuries were reported

Cindy Hall, a Red Cross volunteer and outreach minister at First Baptist Church in Sanford, said dozens of homes in the area were damaged.

"It wiped out our St. Andrews neighborhood, which includes about 30 homes," she said.

To the west, hikers stranded by flash floods had to be rescued.

In Person County, about 200 homes were damaged, according to the Roxboro Fire Department. Damages include multiple downed power lines and trees and the roof of the Bethel Hill Charter School was blown off. A tornado reportedly touched down off US-501 west of Mayo Lake.

US-501 is closed at Bethel Hill Loop because of downed power lines.

For information about volunteer efforts, click here.

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