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updated 4/17/2011 5:59:46 PM ET 2011-04-17T21:59:46

At least 21 people were killed when tornadoes hit North Carolina over the weekend. The state was hardest hit by a storm system that spawned dozens of tornadoes from Oklahoma to Virginia. Here are a few stories of survival.

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Jonathan Robinson saw the tornado moving toward his mobile home in Dunn, grabbed his cousin's 3-month-old son and dashed for a closet in his bedroom. But as he dove for safety, the twister took his home apart around him and swept the baby into the dark, swirling afternoon sky.

"As soon as I jumped in the closet, it came down and that little baby flew out of my hand," he said. "I seen him leave my arms. That's how strong the wind was."

Immediately after digging himself out, Robinson joined family members at the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park frantically digging through the rubble all around them for little Ayden.

"I thought he was lost," Robinson said.

Several long minutes later, someone found the boy under a wooden board, unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital, where miraculously emergency room workers found only minor injuries.

"He's really blessed to be here right now," said Ayden's mom, Ciera Robinson, as the boy's grandmother sat nearby giving the baby a bottle. "He's good now. He ended up with a lump on his head. It wasn't nothing major."

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All John Lucas had left from his fight against the tornado was his door handle and part of the front door.

The roaring winds from Saturday's tornado at the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park ripped open his front door. As he grabbed the handle to close it back, the storm ripped the rest of the door away and collapsed the walls.

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Buried under those walls, Lucas, 73, shouted for help and neighbors directed rescue workers his way. He was checked out at the hospital, but suffered just scrapes and bruises.

A decision Lucas made more than 30 years ago to fasten down his roof with three straps anchored three feet into the ground may have saved his life by keeping his home from flying apart like more than half of the 40 other houses in the park.

"I wasn't hurt. I was just pinned down on the floor and couldn't get out," Lucas said. "According to what those people tell me, I'm a lucky man."

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Neither Carolyn Troyon nor her husband Chuck knew what to do in a tornado because they had never seen one in their more than 70 years.

With the sky turning pitch black in the afternoon and winds howling, the two made it to the bathroom in their home near Clinton as quickly as they could. Hobbled by their age, they couldn't get there before the front windows shattered, leaving Chuck Troyon with a deep gash on his forehead.

The house shook as they huddled in the bathroom. "I thought we were going to die. I thought this was it and I began praying," Carolyn Troyon said.

Their son Rick, who lives beside them wasn't home. A tree smashed through his house, and he spent most of the day cutting it apart.

"I was worried," said Rick who drove as fast as he could as soon as he heard news of the tornado. "I didn't know what happened. Not knowing was difficult."

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Angelina McCaizie and her family never heard the warnings for the tornado that moved through the Stoney Brook Mobile Home Park, the same neighborhood where three people from the same family died about five miles north of downtown Raleigh.

She was cooking when the rain and wind started. Once she saw a branch fall past the window, she gathered up everyone in the home and they huddled in the kitchen.

"I got all my kids, my nephew, my brother, everybody, into one area in the kitchen and everybody just ducked down," McCaizie said.

The storm passed quickly, and they scrambled outside to check for damage and see if their neighbors needed help. She saw several people bleeding and others with broken bones. McCaizie said someone ran up to her shouting, "Please help me! Please help me! I need 911."

"It was horrible," McCaizie said. "It was terrible."

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The Rev. Darren Whitehurst spent Saturday night digging some of his parishioners out of the rubble of their homes after a tornado roared through Bertie County. On Sunday, he helped with Greater Wynns Grove Baptist Church's service which had to be held outside in Colerain.

The church couldn't use its worship building, which was damaged, or its education building, which was demolished. The steeple was swept away in the wind and hasn't been found.

The message for Palm Sunday's service was helping others in need.

"It's been a trying night. It's been a bloody night," Whitehurst said. "But God is still good."

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Associated Press reporters Mitch Weiss in Clinton and Tom Foreman Jr. and Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Another view from ravaged Raleigh, N.C.

  1. Closed captioning of: Another view from ravaged Raleigh, N.C.

    >>> with another view from the ground , we want to go to the weather channel 's mike bettes also in raleigh .

    >> reporter: good evening to you. certainly a day they won't soon forget here in raleigh after a barrage of tornadoes tore up community after community. today it was neighbors banding together, helping each other clear debris piling up in the front yard, home after home hit by tornadoes here in this raleigh community just north of town. but many of the more remarkable things in all this is the survival stories like the home you see right here. two-story home that no longer exists, wiped off its foundation. the family wasn't home at the time. they were actually at a soccer match. they were returning home from that soccer match, and the tornado thankfully beat them home. they have no basement and only now can wonder what would have happened if they were inside. governor bev perdue has declared a state of emergency . the severe storms will now go down likely as the most prolific tornado damage the state has ever

Photos: Dozens dead after storms rip through 6 states

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  1. Dade County High School student Marcella Lackey, second left, dances with Craig Holmes, left, at her high school prom in Dade County, Ga., on Saturday, May 14. Two weeks after a tornado devastated their town, students from Dade County High came together for their prom, hoping the traditional teenage rite of passage can help them regain a sense of normalcy. (Billy Weeks / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial photo taken on April 17 shows a home severely damaged by a tornado that ripped through Gloucester, Va. on April 16. Tornadoes and flash flooding have left several people dead in Virginia, and crews are continuing to assess damage that severe weekend storms caused across several areas of the state. (Randall Greenwell / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tornado victim Clay Anderson, left, with his dog Mindy, sits on the steps of his back porch and talks with American Red Cross volunteer Kathi Garrett in the Saint Andrews community in Sanford, N.C. on April 17. (Wesley Beeson / The Sanford Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Nathaniel Ramey, left, comforts Megan Hurst at her grandmother's house in Askewville, N.C. on April 17 after a tornado struck the previous day. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. This aerial photo taken on April 17 shows a home severely damaged by a tornado that ripped through Gloucester, Va. on April 16. (Randall Greenwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Kathy Gay looks up at the damaged ceiling in the home of her brother Gary Jordan on April 17 in Gloucester, Va. (Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A car is swallowed up by a hole left after a tree fell as a tornado passed just south of downtown Raleigh, N.C. on April 17. (Stan Gilliland / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The remains of two school buses at Page Middle School in Gloucester, Va. on April 17, a day after the tornado hit. (Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Chris Nelson hugs his daughter Andrea, 15, in the parking lot in front of Lowe's hardware store in Sanford, N.C. on April 17, a day after a tornado destroyed the building while the Nelsons were inside shopping. The Nelsons returned Sunday to reclaim their truck, back right. (Ted Richardson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. An aerial photo shows tornado damage at the Lowe's Home Improvement Center in Sanford, N.C. on April 17. (Thomas Babb / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Mary Grady sits in her neighbor's yard where she rode out a tornado in Askewville, N.C. on April 17. Her home was destroyed in the storm. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A woman inspects her home and car in Raleigh, N.C. on April 17, after homes and businesses were badly damaged Saturday by a severe storm system that whipped across the state. It brought flash floods, hail and reports of tornadoes from the western hills to the streets of Raleigh. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Debris fill the street after a tornado hit Raleigh, N.C., April 17. Tornadoes tore through the Carolinas on Saturday afternoon as the death toll rose to at least 45 people from the storms across the southern United States over the last three days. (Chris Keane / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Raleigh police officer J.L. Bloodworth speaks with a man seeking information about relatives who live at the Stoney Brook Mobile Home Park in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 16, where three people where killed. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A worker takes a picture of the damage left behind by a tornado in Raleigh, N.C. (Chris Keane / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Jeffrey Tan, 13, left, sits on the tree that fell on his great-grandmother's house, Saturday, April 16, in Raleigh, N.C. (Chris Seward / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. An auto repair shop lost its back wall and roof after a tornado ripped through the area, Saturday, April 16, in Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Willett / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Emergency personnel confer in front of Lowe's Home Improvement after it was hit by a tornado in Sanford, N.C., Saturday, April 16. "The Lowe's Home Improvement has been flattened," said Monica Elliott, who works at the nearby Brick City Grill. "It's totally destroyed." (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A.C. Bivens looks at the damage to his home after a tornado ripped through Washington County, Ala., on April 16. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Family and friends go through the debris of what is left of Gene Box's trailer after a tornado killed her and two of her children while ripping through Washington County, Ala., on April 16. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Only stairs and flowers remain Saturday, April 16, after severe winds tore a mobile home off its lot late Friday night in Boone's Chapel, Ala. (Amanda Sowards / Montgomery Advertiser via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Bill Mosley, right, urges his daughter Lisa Mosley to walk carefully through the spare bedroom, fearful that she step on a roofing nail as the two gather possessions from the tornado damaged house in Clinton, Miss., Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Standing amid downed trees and destroyed houses, members of Southside Baptist Church of Yazoo City, give a prayer of thanks following several hours of work cutting up trees and removing storm debris in this Clinton, Miss., neighborhood, Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A car drives through a partially flooded street, Friday, April 15, 2011 in Decatur, Ala. (John Godbey / The Decatur Daily via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Storms continue to brew as I-20 is shut down after a morning tornado downed power lines and overturned cars and trucks Friday, April 15, in Clinton, Miss. (Brian Albert Broom / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Friends and neighbors help tornado stricken residents remove possessions in east Clinton, Miss., Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A billboard lays collapsed on the ground after a tornado went through Friday, April 15, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Michelle Lepianka Carter / The Tuscaloosa News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Makala Welch helps her grandparents clean up after a tornado touched down in Clinton, Miss., April 15. (Charles Smith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Jerome Whittington attempts to salvage belongings through the window of his automobile in Tushka, Okla., Friday, April 15. (Sue Ogrocki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Two women stand in the middle of what used to be houses after a large tornado hit the small town of 350 people, killing two, in Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A woman removes belongings from a house damaged after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Evan Whitehead walks past a family member's vehicle and house while looking for belongings after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Volunteers pitch in to remove branches from a fallen oak tree in Tushka, Okla., Friday, April 15, following a tornado. (Sue Ogrocki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Denym Pingleton, left, carries her books out of the inside of what is left of their school with fellow students Kayla Wilhite, right, and Courtney Wilhite after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A severe storm passes over east Tulsa and the Renaissance Hotel, in Tulsa, Okla., April 14. (James Gibbard / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Interactive: Birth of a tornado

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