"It's something unlike I have ever seen before. A lot of destruction. It's going to be a long recovery process," Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram said.
It happened around midnight Monday into Tuesday.
NWS officials said Tuesday afternoon the EF-3 tornado had estimated winds of 160 mph.
Drone video shows the extent of the damage:
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"It's close to home. It could've been my loved ones, you know what I mean?" lifelong resident Chris Osborne said Tuesday morning.
The National Weather Service reports several homes were damaged by the suspected tornado. Brunswick County Emergency Management reported that many people had been trapped inside their damaged homes.
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The worst damage happened at Ocean Ridge Plantation Community. All of the injuries and fatalities happened in that area.
Osborne has lived in that area all his life but said the storms overnight sounded different.
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"It was loud. It kept me up most of the night," he said.
RAW: Daylight reveals extent of damage in Brunswick County
"Our prayers are with them all," Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement on Twitter.
At least three deaths, a number of injuries and damage to dozens of homes caused by a fierce tornado in Brunswick County last night. I have spoken with Sheriff Ingram and County Commission Chair Thompson, and the state has sent help. Our prayers are with them all. - RC— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) February 16, 2021
Rescue operations were underway in the early hours of the morning and several missing persons reports had been filed. However, investigators now say all those who were missing have now been found.
Crews resumed surveying the damage when the sun rose Tuesday morning.
"Just try to come together and rebuild. That's all we can do," Osborne said.
Phil Pasco lives in a neighborhood along Green Bay road, which is right across from the Ocean Ridge Plantation. He recalls hearing what sounded like hail outside his home.
"I could see all the debris flying around in a big circle. And I'm like...you know, I had to refocus to see if that's what it was - waiting for the lightning to hit again, so I could see. And the lightning hit again, and I see a trailer up there just coming right off the ground," Pasco told ABC11 as he was standing on his front porch.
Pasco told ABC11 he quickly ran to his bathtub and stayed there for 10 minutes. Once the noise passed, he went outside to assess the damage.
"I had a gazebo and my gas grill was ripped off my porch and so everything in my yard is in my pond or in the woods," said Pasco.
Thankfully, Pasco said his home wasn't damaged and his chickens and ducks survived the tornado, adding, "I was lucky in that respect."