The tornado happening late Monday night into early Tuesday morning. Many Ocean Isle residents were asleep at the time of the storm.
"It's like bombs went off in some of the houses," one resident recalled.
The tornado killed three people, injured 10 others and flattened dozens of homes.
"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.
National Weather Service said the tornado had estimated winds of 160 miles per hour -- equivalent to a Catagory 5 storm.
Drone video shows the extent of the damage:
"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 worst damage happened at Ocean Ridge Plantation Community. All of the injuries and fatalities happened in that area.
"People in Brunswick County were hit hard by this ferocious tornado and we want to make state resources available as much as possible," said Gov. Cooper.
State emergency management and State Highway Patrol have been on the scene since Monday night to assist in recovery efforts, according to Cooper.
Gov. Cooper holds news conference with Brunswick County officials