Only stairs and flowers remain Saturday, April 16, 2011 after severe winds tore a mobile home off it's lot late Friday night in Boone's Chapel, Ala., in Autauga County. Vicious storms and howling winds smacked the Deep South, killing at least seven people in Alabama including three family members whose homes were tossed into nearby woods. (Amanda Sowards/AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser)
A brutal spring storm raged across North Carolina on Saturday, flattening businesses and homes, leaving officials with an unknown number of casualties from a system that was already blamed for killing 17 people in four states.
North Carolina officials said there were multiple fatalities and they were working to confirm the exact number. In South Carolina, a church with six people inside collapsed after it was hit by a tornado, but somehow no one was injured.
The situation was more grim to the north. Roofs were ripped off stores, trees were plucked out of the ground and “scores” of homes were damaged across the state, emergency management director Doug Hoell said.
Police in Raleigh evacuated residents at a mobile park, and emergency crews went door-to-door looking for people injured or trapped by the storm that flipped mobile homes from one side of the street to the other.
Guillermo Villela, 34, said he saw two young children at the park trapped under fallen trees.
“I see a lot of disaster. It's bad,” Villela said.
The storms began in Oklahoma on Thursday, then marched through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, what could have been a deadly catastrophe was averted when a Lowe's hardware store manager who saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.
The front of Lowe's was flattened by the storm, with cars in the parking lot tossed around and flipped on their roofs.
“It was really just a bad scene,” said Jeff Blocker, Lowe's regional vice-president for eastern North Carolina. “You're just amazed that no one was injured.”
Blocker credits his store manager and the other 40 to 50 employees in the store at the time with getting the as many as 70 customers safely to the rear.
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 neighbourhood, which includes about 30 homes,” she said.
— Tom Breen, Associated Press