NC Tornado: 16 people injured, numerous homes, buildings destroyed by EF-3 twister

Videos: Tornado leaves destruction in Nash County
Videos: Tornado leaves destruction in Nash CountyThe tornado cut a path 16.5 miles long and had peak winds around 150 miles per hour.

DORTCHES, N.C. (WTVD) -- A large tornado touched down in Nash County on Wednesday afternoon, causing extensive damage and injuring 16 people.

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado was on the ground from 12:25 p.m. until 12:58 p.m. (most tornadoes are on the ground for less than 20 minutes).

It touched down in Dortches as an EF-1 tornado, tracked northeast, and gained strength. It was an EF-3 storm around the time it reached North Carolina Wesleyan College, the Pfizer facility off US-301 and the Edgecombe County line.

The twister continued its northeasterly path, tracking several miles into Edgecombe County and weakening as it traveled.

UP CLOSE | Neighbor captures when tornado hit couple's home

The tornado injured multiple people and left widespread damage.

The National Weather Service said the storm remained on the ground for 16.5 miles and had a maximum width of 600 yards. Sixteen people were injured by the tornado; two of them have life-threatening injuries.

The tornado was the first EF-3 to hit central North Carolina since April 16, 2011. That's when 30 tornadoes hit the state, nine in central North Carolina and one registering EF-3 strength. The twisters killed 24 people and caused more than $328 million worth of damage.

Rocky Mount City Manage Keith Rogers Jr. announced Thursday that Mayor C. Saunders Roberson had declared a state of emergency for the area because of the extensive damage caused by the tornado.

The areas hardest hit in the city were the Pfizer plant and the Belmont Lakes neighborhood.

Rocky Mount city manager gives Thursday update

Nash County Emergency Services said at least 89 structures were damaged by the tornado.

"We want to thank our municipalities, Nash County volunteer fire departments, surrounding counties, North Carolina Highway Patrol, NCDOT, and North Carolina Emergency Management for their assistance during the emergency response," said Emergency Services Director Tony Cameron. "It takes a big team to recover from an event like this. We are also fortunate that the number of injured individuals remained very low despite the amount of damage we are seeing."

The Pfizer facility in Rocky Mount sustained major damage. Part of the roof was torn off.

"We can confirm that the Pfizer Rocky Mount facility was damaged by the tornado," a Pfizer spokesman told ABC11. "At this point, there are no reports of serious injuries. We are assessing the situation to determine the impact on production. Our thoughts are with our colleagues, our patients, and the community as we rebuild from this weather incident."

Streets across Nash County are littered with trees, branches, and powerlines.

Just down the road from the Pfizer facility, a daycare also sustained damage. Children were inside when the twister hit but no injuries were reported. The daycare owner said cleanup efforts will resume Thursday morning,

Nash County Sheriff and Rocky Mount emergency responders are asking everyone to stay safe and off the roads.

Over in the Belmont Lake Preserve neighborhood, homeowner Bobbie Clark said he was at home when the tornado hit. He said he thought he heard a helicopter and then a big "boom" before the windows in his bathroom blew out.

"The way I look at it, if I had stepped one step out of the right side out of the bathroom when that boom came, I wouldn't be talking to you right now and you're fine," Clark said. "Yeah, I'm fine. God was good. He saved me. Told me to get up and go to the that right time...and that noise and everything and that big blast."

The tornado also went through the roof of Mark Frohman and Joyce Payne's home.

"The fact that we were fine and the house was damaged, it can be replaced so we're good," Payne said.

"I was close to the kitchen windows that got blown out...I saw them getting blown out. It happened so fast I couldn't believe there was a window there," said Frohman.

Tammy Peele lives with her mom in a house on Town Hall Road. She was there when the storm blew through.

People with the Mennonite Church of Louisburg helped her clear limbs and trees during the recovery efforts Thursday.

"When you're on the other side of the woods, their whole house is gone and then our other neighbor, her whole roof is gone, half her house is gone, we are very blessed," Peele said. "We started running to the bathroom and next thing we know in a couple of seconds, everything was over probably lasted 8 or 9 seconds."

Her roof was busted and there were trees down everywhere. Peele said she and her mother also went through Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and lost their house.

"Our community has pulled together, these people are from a church group right here, they came by and wanted to offer their services to see how they could help it's just humbling to see all of this,' she said.

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone confirmed that trees were down, houses were damaged and power had been knocked out in the areas between Castalia, Whitakers, and Leggett.

Tracking the size and path of this tornado

The ABC11 weather team evaluates the tornado's path and size as it touched down in Nash County.

All lanes of I-95 were closed near Rocky Mount between Exits 138 (US 64) and 141 (NC 43) because of obstructions. NCDOT said the interstate reopened shortly after 3 p.m. but heavy congestion remained in both directions.

Gov. Roy Cooper said he spoke with the sheriffs of Nash and Edgecombe counties about the tornado damage. The governor said state personnel are helping get roads open and providing other assistance as needed.

Stone said sheriff's units and other public safety crews responding to parts of the Red Oak/Dortches area to check on reports of downed power lines and trees.

According to Duke Energy, there were more than 1,000 power outages in and around Dortches and south of Red Oak. Most of those outages were restored later that same day.

Trees crashed into a home's swimming pool in Nash County.

ALSO SEE: More severe weather in the works for evening, Thursday

Residents who need assistance or shelter information can contact the Nash County non-emergency line at (252) 459-1510.

SEE ALSO | Check all current weather advisories

Nash County Public Schools

The school system posted a note on Facebook letting parents know if their child is enrolled in the Summer Scholar program and can't make it, they absence will be excused due to the storm.

Summer Scholar Sites of the following Schools Only:

Red Oak Middle School

Red Oak Elementary School

Northern Nash High School

Dear Parents/Guardians,

Due to today's storm, we understand that some students may have been affected, and we want to assure you that your child's safety is our top priority. If your child cannot make it to school tomorrow, their absence will be excused and is completely understandable.

However, for families who can safely bring their children to school, please note that Red Oak Elementary, Red Oak Middle, and Northern Nash High School will remain open.

Our buses will be operable, and we will keep you informed if there are any changes.

Our dedicated staff will be here to provide a safe and supportive learning environment.

NCDOT said the rest area is closed on I-95 South in Nash County at Mile Marker 142 in Dortches and won't reopen for hours.

The tornado spawned relatively quickly, but it did come after a warning from the National Weather Service.

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