RALEIGH, N.C. – Brutal spring storms kept up their fury as they raged across the East Coast on Saturday, flattening businesses, flipping cars and destroying homes, killing more than a half dozen people in North Carolina and Virginia.
In all, 25 people have died in six states since the storms started wreaking havoc some four days ago. And the death toll was likely to rise.
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said there were fatalities in four counties but would not confirm an exact number. Earlier, officials in Raleigh said more than one person died in the capital city in Wake County.
In Gloucester, Va., three people were killed and more than 60 injured when a tornado ripped through a coastal area while authorities said flash flooding near Waynesboro killed one person, swept another away who is still missing and prompted the rescue of a third person.
In South Carolina, a church with six people inside collapsed after it was hit by a tornado, but no one was injured. And in Sanford, N.C., the manager of a Lowe’s hardware store was credited with saving more than 100 workers by ushering them to the back of the store, which sheltered them as the weather rolled in.
The storms began in Oklahoma on Thursday, then roared through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
Seven people each were killed in Arkansas and Alabama, which was hit a day earlier. A father, his son and his daughter were killed near Montgomery; a mother and her two teenage sons died in a mobile home in the southwest part of the state, and the storm claimed the life of an elderly man whose trailer was tossed nearly a quarter of a mile across a state highway.
Gov. Robert Bentley visited some of the devastated areas and declared the entire state a disaster.
Things looked similar in North Carolina. Roofs were ripped off stores, trees were plucked out of the ground and scores of homes were damaged, 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 homes from one side of the street to the other.
There were 62 separate reports of tornadoes in North Carolina, according to public safety spokeswoman Julia Jarema. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power in the Carolinas.
In Alabama, residents were reeling. Steve Hollon had recently moved into his father’s home with his wife and two daughters while they remodeled a house of their own. He had come to the small community of Boone’s Chapel to be closer to his dad, Willard Hollon.
The storm demolished Willard Hollon’s home and his daughter Cheryl’s house. They were both killed, as was Steve.
Willard’s brother, Henley Hollon, lived across the street. He had come outside after the storm passed. As the winds whirled and the lights went out, all he saw were a set of stairs and flowerbeds.
Henley Hollon told Gov. Bentley he and his wife didn’t have time to get into a hallway when they realized the tornado was hitting.
“If God wanted us, we was in the big room, where He could have got us,” Hollon said. “I don’t try to outguess God.”