Carolinians begin cleanup efforts

SANFORD The storms pummeled bustling cities and remote rural communities.

In the capital city, it will take a while before life returns to normal. One community hit especially hard was the Stony Brook neighborhood, off Brentwood Road.

Three boys, 3-year-old Kevin Coronado, 8-year-old Osvaldo Coronado and 9-year-old Daniel Quistan Nino, lost their lives when a tree plowed through the roof of their mobile home.

A fourth child, 6-month-old Yaire Quistian Nino, suffered head injuries and is hospitalized in critical condition. It is not known if any adults were injured.

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Police told residents Sunday afternoon the neighborhood will remain closed until early Monday evening, due to safety concerns.

Governor Beverly Perdue, who said the storm damage was the most catastrophic damage she had ever seen, will continue to tour the state Monday to view all the areas hit by the storm.

Perdue said about 130 houses across North Carolina have been completely destroyed and over 700 have been damaged.

The Red Cross says nearly 300 people stayed overnight Sunday at seven shelters across the region.

Progress Energy says more than 30,000 customers are still without power, mostly in the Raleigh area.

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

"We have in North Carolina a tremendous relationship with our federal partners, and have been through this so many times," she said. "That's not a good thing. That's a bad thing."

One place the governor is scheduled to visit Monday is Bertie County, where storms were deadliest. At least 11 residents died, Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said, including three members of the same family.

There have been at least 22 reports of fatalities received from Bertie, Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Johnston, Lee and Wake counties said North Carolina Emergency Management on Sunday.

More than 130 people have suffered injuries after at least 20 counties reported over 60 tornadoes. Officials expect those totals to climb as damage assessments continue.

In the Bladen County community of Ammon, about 70 miles south of Raleigh, Audrey McKoy and her husband Milton saw a tornado bearing down on them over the tops of the pine trees that surround the seven or eight mobile homes that make up their neighborhood. He glanced at a nearby farm and saw the winds lifting pigs and other animals in the sky.

"It looked just like 'The Wizard of Oz,"' Audrey said.

They took shelter in their laundry room, and after emerging once the storm had passed, were disoriented for a moment. The twister had turned their mobile home around and they were standing in their backyard.

Milton found three bodies in their neighborhood, including 92-year-old Marchester Avery and his 50-year-old son, Tony, who died in adjacent mobile homes. He stopped his wife from coming over to see.

"You don't want to look at this," he told her.

One of the hardest hit areas in Sanford was a Lowe's home improvement store. Officials confirm that an EF 3 tornado hit there.

More than 100 employees and customers screamed in near unison when the steel roof curled off overhead Saturday.

"You could hear all the steel ripping. People screaming in fear for their lives," Lowe's store manager Michael Hollowell said.

Officials said quick action by Hollowell and his employees helped them all make it out alive in Sanford, about 40 miles south of Raleigh.

In all of Lee County, officials said there was just one confirmed fatality during the storm, which left a swath of destruction unmatched by any spring storm in the state since the mid-1980s.

Several North Raleigh homes were also destroyed by the tornado late Saturday afternoon.

Joe Stiles, whose home was completely destroyed, said he and his family were getting ready for church when the storm struck.

He said he and his family found themselves on the steps huddled together. They were tossed around a bit, but were not injured.

Stiles says about an hour after the family escaped out of a window, the home collapsed to the first floor - resting on a piano and the back deck.

One of Perdue's stops Sunday was downtown Raleigh, where fallen trees blocked major thoroughfares and damage to the Shaw University campus forced it to cancel the remainder of its spring semester.

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S. Saunders Street in downtown, which has been blocked since Saturday afternoon's storms, reopened to traffic early Monday morning. However, officers will be directing traffic since most traffic lights are still not working.

There is also massive damage in the Fayetteville.

There's so much damage at Ben Martin Elementary that they school is closed for the rest of the school year. At this point there's no word on where the students will be relocated to.

There is also damage nearby Fort Bragg causing the base to be closed Sunday. Soldiers who live in neighborhoods near the post will be allowed to access their residences on Monday by showing proper military identification to police.

The violent weather began Thursday in Oklahoma, where two people died, before cutting across the Deep South on Friday and hitting North Carolina and Virginia on Saturday. Authorities said seven people died in Arkansas; seven in Alabama; seven in Virginia; and one in Mississippi.

More than 240 tornadoes were reported from the storm system, including 62 in North Carolina, but the National Weather Service's final numbers could be lower because some tornadoes may have been reported more than once.

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