Video: The storm-ravaged embrace kindness from strangers

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updated 4/19/2011 4:21:07 PM ET 2011-04-19T20:21:07

Shards of glass from old bottles and furniture smashed by a tornado that tore through town littered the concrete floor of Rhonda Carter's antique store, shattering her plans to open an auction house in nearby Salemburg. A storage area in the back was flattened.

"I just had a feeling something bad was going to happen, and it did," Carter said of Saturday, when storms raged through Bonnetsville and other parts of North Carolina, killing at least 23 and damaging or destroying more than 800 homes. "Now I'm starting over."

From remote rural communities to the state's second-largest city, thousands of residents hit by the most active tornado outbreak recorded in North Carolina's history were clearing away rubble and debris, repairing power lines and facing a recovery that will cost tens of millions of dollars. Gov. Beverly Perdue on Tuesday requested a federal disaster declaration for 18 counties, which would open up federal aid.

Story: 15-state tornado swarm deadliest since 2008

The storms that chugged across the South last week killed at least 46 people in six states, but the worst devastation came over about four hours Saturday in North Carolina. A confirmed tally had been difficult to reach because of the far-flung destruction and multiple government agencies involved.

The Associated Press confirmed the identities of each of the 23 who died in North Carolina with relatives, local officials or state troopers.

"In the blink of an eye, so many people have been plunged into grief and crisis," said Preston Parrish, executive vice president of ministry at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which dispatched its disaster-response teams to four areas of the state.

One was Bertie County in the state's northeast corner, where the ministry also deployed volunteers just seven months ago, after floods devastated the county seat of Windsor and surrounding communities.

Interactive: 2011 tornado season (on this page)

At least two tornadoes hit the county in rapid succession, one doing enough damage to kill 11 people. The twisters descended suddenly, with only about 15 minutes of warning.

"I saw it coming, we got in there, and as soon as we hit the door, boom, it hit," said Roy Lee, whose house was destroyed. "About three minutes max it was over."

When it was over, Lee's neighbor, 60-year-old Peggy Leary, was dead.

The National Weather Service said Tuesday that its preliminary analysis has identified 25 different tornadoes in North Carolina. That's three more touchdowns than during a March 1984 event that included more powerful systems and killed twice as many people but was largely isolated to the Interstate 95 corridor.

Saturday's outbreak spread across more than half the state, from near Winston-Salem to the Outer Banks.

Perdue and other officials toured the damage Monday, pledging prompt support to rebuild. Charities, religious groups and emergency shelters sprang into action, offering their services to residents well-versed in disasters like hurricanes, who suddenly found themselves in the path of a very different type of storm.

Bertie County's property damage was at least $2.5 million, but that figure doesn't include infrastructure damage or the loss of crops. Bertie County produces tobacco, peanuts and soybeans, among other staples. Statewide, costs will likely be at least in the tens of millions because the weather raged through densely populated cities, trashing homes, businesses and public buildings.

Employees in Wake County, where Raleigh is located, estimated Monday that local costs will be around $65 million, county commission Chairman Paul Coble said, an estimate he expects to rise.

One mobile home in Raleigh was the site of four deaths, including 6-month-old Yaire Quistian-Nino, who had been listed in critical condition at a nearby hospital. Yaire was killed along with her 9-year-old brother, Daniel Quistian-Nino, and two cousins, 8-year-old Osvaldo Coronado-Nino and 3-year-old Kevin Uriel Coronado-Nino.

Authorities have said that Yaire's mother moved all the kids into a closet when the storm came in but that a large tree fell on the home. Police have said the mother was momentarily knocked unconscious but survived.

In Roseboro 60 miles south of Raleigh, Larry Tanner had heard the warnings on TV, but at home with his wife and two of his three children, he looked outside and it was sunny.

He thought he was safe until his son, Jonathan, 19, a volunteer firefighter, walked in and his pager went off. A tornado had just touched down in Ammon about 10 miles way. Tanner walked outside and spotted a funnel cloud headed toward the house.

"Turn around," he shouted at his son.

Jonathan was trapped inside the front door. The column from the front porch hit him on the head, cutting a deep gash. The windows blew out, sending shards of glass flying like shrapnel.

Tanner was knocked on his back and watched as the winds ripped the roof off the house.

It lasted about a half-minute.

"It was terrible. I couldn't breathe. The dirt and debris got in my lungs," Jonathan recalled Monday, his voice trailing off. He was quiet for a moment.

"I thought we were going to die."

Video: Storm survivor: 'It was madness' (on this page)

More than a quarter-million people lost power during the storm, but by late Monday that had dropped to a few thousand. The storm not only brought down power lines, but crews responding to outages found the storm had been so strong that some wires had simply vanished.

Emergency workers took damage estimates to see if uninsurable losses reach $10.3 million, the minimum amount needed for North Carolina to qualify for federal disaster assistance. Residents without insurance were advised to take photos of the damage before they clean up. And the emergency workers tell everyone to put debris in two piles: construction materials and vegetative materials.

But beyond the material losses are injuries that won't be remedied as quickly.

Gary Cary, 46, who lives in Roseboro, got his wheelchair up a ramp into his mother's house moments before a tornado blew through the area, shattering the home's windows. Both he and his mother lived, but his own home was obliterated. Worse, he said, was the death of Possum, the 8-year-old calico cat he called "my right arm."

"I could have lost my life," he said. "My mother could be gone. It's just rough. Real rough."

___

Vergakis reported from Windsor. Associated Press writers Tom Breen, Martha Waggoner and Mike Baker in Raleigh, and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.

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

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

  1. Above: Interactive Birth of a tornado
  2. Interactive 2011 tornado season

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