Nightly News   |  April 17, 2011

Survival and heroism in the storms

Amidst stories of death and despair, families share their remarkable stories of fortunate timing and heroic thinking. NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. tonight one of the deadliest outbreaks of tornadoes in recent memory has carved a trail of destruction and anguish across a half dozen states. since thursday at least 44 people have been killed across the south and east. the most recent deaths occurred late yesterday in virginia and north carolina , which took an especially wicked blow. at least 22 people are confirmed dead there alone. there are reports of 94 tornadoes hitting the state. tonight north carolina remains under a state of emergency . we begin our coverage tonight in raleigh with nbc's kristen dahlgren. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, lester. you can see that clean-up here really just getting started. searchers spent much of the day in many places making sure that nobody else is trapped under the debris after what has been a massive and deadly three-day tornado outbreak .

>> right there. right there. right there, right there, tornado, on the ground!

>> home video captured the sheer fury of the twister. it's the up close look at residents like sanford long will never forget.

>> reporter: it hit all of a sudden.

>> within minutes his neighbors' houses were gone. their frames snapped and shifted off their foundations. next door joe styles and his w family rode it out on the secondt 1200 floor.

>> reporter: i came and told her. we heard the loud bang and doors and glass and everything flying around.

>> returning today, he could only stare. wondering how they survived and how to put it all back together.

>> reporter: it's one of those things, where do you start?

>> it's a question being asked across the south after the massive storm brought death and destruction for three days. starting in oklahoma on thursday, tornadoes barreled through arkansas, mississippi, alabama, the carolinas and virginia . leaving more than 40 dead, dozens homeless, and almost all in awe of what is one of the worst spring storms in decades. in north carolina yesterday, 94 tornadoes were reported. the governor toured the hardest-hit areas and has already declared a state of emergency .

>> reporter: i'm not shocked at all. but i was truly -- i was truly sad.

>> 1 # people died in bertie county alone. while in raleigh , three children died in a mobile home park.

>> reporter: they're loving kids. they're beautiful kids.

>> in all of the despair, stories of survival. a lowe's home improvement store in sanford, north carolina , peeled apart just after a manager pushed customers to safety in the rear of the store. in gloucester county , virginia , 14-year-old rashas matthews made his own harrowing escape.

>> reporter: right over there, near the drain. i was right there. my sister was right next to me.

>> while at this church in south carolina , all six people inside walked out from beneath the debris. back in raleigh , it was a wedding album that survived.

>> reporter: we found it.

>> giving hope to a couple who lost just about everything else.

>> reporter: we got it, baby. we got it. we got it.

>> now tonight, tens of thousands remain without power. the red cross has shelters open for those who still can't go home. but, lester, tonight neighbors here tell me they have every intention of rebuilding.

>> reporter: kristen dahlgren for us tonight,