Amber Parker watched on television as the storm near her home grew into a tornado threat. Then, when the roaring wind outside suddenly fell silent, she grabbed her two toddlers and rushed to get under the stairwell.
“We just got inside the door frame when I was pushed inside ... then everything went,” said Parker, tears welling in her eyes as she described the chaotic scene during a brief discussion with reporters near her demolished home in central North Carolina.
Neighbors helped the 36-year-old Parker and her two children — a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old — out of the ruins that used to be their home, and the three survived with barely a scratch.
“We’re blessed,” she said.
The powerful storm system that swept through the Southeast and the mid-Atlantic states late Thursday and into early Friday produced two tornadoes. In North Carolina, the storm left one person dead, several injured and scores of homes and businesses damaged.
Donald Ray Needham, 51, of Jackson Springs, died when his truck overturned in a parking lot just west of Greensboro, authorities said. They said three others were injured, one when the storm knocked down a wall at a distributing business, and two others when their vehicles flipped off the road.
In Greensboro, some homes and businesses on the outskirts of town were damaged, and two FedEx airplanes were pitched off the tarmac and into an airport construction site. No one was injured at the airport.
And while officials scoured through wreckage when daylight arrived Friday, they found no new injuries or fatalities.
“I thought we were going to come back to something a lot worse than what we have out there,” said David Douglas, assistant chief for the Greensboro Fire Department. “It could have been much worse than it was.”
The National Weather Service reported preliminary indications that the Greensboro tornado clocked in as a category EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, meaning the funnel was packing winds between 111 and 135 mph.
Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman with the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, said the storm blew three tractor-trailers off Interstate 40. Michelle Brock, assistant coordinator for Forsyth County emergency management, said firefighters rescued five people because of flooding in Winston-Salem. She said high water had displaced about 10 people.
Earlier Thursday, an apparent tornado wrecked a shopping area in Mississippi and strong winds flipped a mobile home in Alabama. In south-central Tennessee, at least four homes and a few barns were reported damaged.
The storm made its way to Virginia and Maryland late Thursday and early Friday, leaving between 75 and 100 homes in northeastern Virginia damaged — about 30 of them severely, said Stafford County spokeswoman Cathy Riddle. She said two people were injured; one of them was taken to a hospital and later released. Dozens of residents were taken to a temporary shelter at a middle school.
Weather service officials confirmed Friday that a tornado also touched down Thursday night in Franklin and Henry counties in western Virginia. The EF1 twister, with winds of 86 to 95 mph, downed trees and damaged homes in a mile-long path, officials said.
Portions of northern and central Virginia and southern Maryland remained under a flood warning Friday morning.