Residents share tornado stories

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 18, 2011

By Karissa Minn
Leonard Smith didn’t need the National Weather Service to tell him that a tornado roared through northwestern Rowan County on Saturday.
Once it ripped the roof off the shed he was standing in, all he had to do was look up.
“I was in the shed painting when I looked out the door and saw it coming,” said Smith, who lives on Beck Road off Old Mocksville Road. “I knew it was a tornado, the way it twisted.”
He ran to an adjoin-ing room that he knew was sturdy because he built it. Just before Smith ducked inside, he heard the wind tear off the roof and felt the rain begin to soak him.
After the storm passed a few minutes later, Smith emerged into the backyard to check on his house and the Chihuahua he left inside. His dog was scared but unharmed. The home didn’t fare as well; half of the roof on its back side was gone.
Smith doesn’t have insurance to cover the damage, so friends and family members are helping him make repairs. The hole on his roof is now covered with metal sheets.
“My neighbors have been coming around, cleaning up and all,” Smith said. “There were about 15 people here earlier.”
Several trees on and around the property were twisted apart and uprooted. They lined up to reveal the path the tornado traveled toward the nearby Farrington Meadows subdivision, which also saw heavy storm damage.
The National Weather Service has confirmed that a tornado with winds up to 105 miles per hour struck Saturday in Rowan and Davie counties.
Preliminary assessment of the damage indicates that an EF1 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale hit the area from 5 miles north of downtown Salisbury near U.S. 601 to Point Road in southeast Davie County, the weather service said in a statement.
EF1 is the second lowest rating in the scale.
The tornado track length was 3.5 miles long with an average width of 100 yards, and damage was intermittent along the path.
Saturday’s storm, whi-ch moved through between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Saturday, damaged about 20 houses in the area as it tore apart roofs, shattered windows and brought down nearby trees. No injuries were reported in Rowan County.
Large trees also toppled onto utility poles, blocking a few roads and causing power outages for at least 6,000 Duke Energy customers in Rowan. Electricity had been restored to nearly all by Sunday night.
Across the state, the death toll from a swath of tornadoes reached 21, according to the Associated Press.
Spencer resident Dan Patterson was among those caught in the more heavily damaged areas.
During an RV camping trip toward Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Patterson stopped Saturday at an RV park in Selma just off Interstate 95. That afternoon, tornadoes reportedly moved through Selma and nearby Smithfield in Johnston County, but the RV park was spared.
“We could tell a twister went to the both sides of us,” Patterson wrote Saturday in an email to the Post. “We only suffered a little hail the size of golf balls and quite a bit of wind.”
As sirens blared after the storm had passed, the couple drove a half mile down a service road and saw mobile homes that had been mangled and destroyed.
The couple then drove 2 miles south on another service road along I-95, Patterson wrote, where it appeared that a tornado had crossed the interstate. A tractor trailer had overturned and sat on its side across the southbound lanes, while downed trees blocked northbound traffic.
Gov. Beverly Perdue toured damaged areas. According to the Associa-ted Press, the governor said her tour of tornado-ravaged portions of her state nearly brought her to tears.
She said at a Sunday afternoon news conference in Raleigh that nothing she saw surprised her, given her experience with natural disasters. Still, the damage is hard to bear.
Perdue said the people she talked to are grateful to be alive. They told her they plan to rebuild their homes and businesses.
The governor says President Barack Obama has pledged federal help for recovery.
The string of tornadoes that touched down across North Carolina on Saturday were the worst such storms in more than two decades. Hundreds of homes were damaged.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-707-4222.