Storm kills woman, 3-year-old in Lexington

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011

LEXINGTON (AP) — An American flag marked the spot Thursday where neighbors and authorities found the body of a 3-year-old girl killed when a suspected tornado struck Davidson County.
The girl and her grandmother, who also died, were home alone in the small house in a rural area south of Lexington when the storm hit about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The flag marking the spot is down a hill and about 25 feet from the house.
Only the foundation of the house remained. The rest of the structure and its contents were scattered hundreds of feet through the remains of twisted trees. The family’s Dodge minivan ended up propped against a nearby tree, its windows smashed and roof caved in.
The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of family members.
Marshall Chriscoe, who lived across Meadow Run Lane from the two who died, said he got a text message from his girlfriend that a tornado was headed his way. He grabbed his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter and they huddled under a heavy roll-top desk.
“The house started shaking and things were falling,” said Chriscoe, 24. “It only lasted 15, maybe 30 seconds. I stood up and realized I was standing on an incline.”
The small house Chriscoe rents was lifted off its foundation, its front steps now leading to empty space. After finding his girlfriend’s Chihuahua hiding under a bed, he went outside to find a scene of devastation.
Chriscoe said he and other neighbors quickly found the gravely injured woman in the debris of her home.
“She was talking and moving her arms,” he said. “She just kept yelling, ‘Get me up!’ But we were afraid to move her before the rescue squad got there.”
The woman was transported to a nearby hospital, where she later died.
Chriscoe said firefighters and volunteers searched for the little girl for more than two hours before finding her buried in a pile of shattered lumber and furniture. She was later declared dead.
“She was just beautiful — big blue eyes and so sweet,” remembered Maegan Chriscoe, Marshall’s sister, whose daughter played with the young victim.
The storm left a debris field about 7 miles long and 100 feet wide, said Jeff Smith, county emergency services director. Residents had little, if any, opportunity to seek shelter because so little time elapsed between when the storm was spotted on radar and the first 911 calls, he said at a news conference Thursday.
Officials with the National Weather Service came to Davidson County on Thursday to determine if it was a tornado that struck the county.
Severe storms in November aren’t uncommon in the Carolinas, said National Weather Service meteorologist Neil Dixon, when temperatures can fluctuate wildly. In the days just before the storm, the high temperature in the area was more than 10 degrees above normal for this time of year, he said.
The cold front moving west to east across the Carolinas collided with that warm, unstable air, it created ideal conditions for severe thunderstorms, he said.
“Typically we see our busiest severe weather season during the spring or early summer months and again in November,” Dixon said.
About a quarter mile from where the two people died, Richard Hedrick worked to salvage what he could from his ruined childhood home. He said his parents were watching the radar image of the storm on television when they saw it bearing down on their location.
They went downstairs to seek shelter in the basement about 30 seconds before the tornado hit, Hedrick said. Their brick house was lifted up and then deposited back down, the first floor sagging into the basement where they were huddled.
Hedrick said he felt lucky his parents suffered only minor injuries. Material possessions can always be replaced he said, as he waited for an insurance adjuster to come survey the damage.
“Mama always said she wanted a sunroom,” he joked when asked if they planned to rebuild. “This was the home place, lots of memories here. But next week we’ll have Thanksgiving dinner somewhere else and we’ll be truly thankful.”
There were a couple of reports Thursday of a tornado touching down on the Rowan County side of High Rock Lake. But Frank Thomason, chief of emergency services for Rowan, said he’d gotten no reports of storm-related damage, only reports of a couple of isolated downed trees and several roads with minor flooding.