RALEIGH — Christina Alvarez huddled her children and nephews into a closet as winds plowed through the pines of Stony Brook North Mobile Home Park in northeast Raleigh on Saturday.
Moments later, a falling tree broke through the trailer's wall, instantly killing her son Daniel Quistian, 9, and nephews Kevin Coronado, 3, and Osvaldo Coronado, 8.
They are thought to be the only Wake County residents to have died as a result of Saturday's storms.
Alvarez lost consciousness, then awoke still holding her 6-month-old daughter Yaire. The infant remains in critical condition.
"There's nothing that she could do, nothing that could be done," said Maj. J.C. Perry of the Raleigh Police Department.
The storm passed through the park and surrounding neighborhoods in a few devastating minutes.
The winds ripped first through a low-lying part of the wooded park but seemed to cause greater damage as they climbed the slope that dominates the area, residents said.
Jim Coulter, 35, watched a thin white line that stretched from the park to the sky as he fled with his family and a puppy, he said. "Like the side of a sheet of paper."
Joshua Hartford, 20, opened the door to his trailer as the winds calmed and saw a black cloud of debris chewing through trees and up a hill, toward where the children died.
"It looked like smoke," Hartford said. He slammed the door shut.
"I didn't want my family seeing that," he said.
Falling trees split trailers in half, and wind knocked some off their bases, residents said. Debris from homes floated like crumpled pieces of paper, one woman said, thudding constantly against the sides of homes as people hid in bathtubs and closets.
A mile away, in a neighborhood where huge trees crushed homes and cars, one man heard only a terrifying moan as the storm passed.
"It didn't change pitch," said Dave Herr of Astro Court. "Every hair on my body stood up."
As the winds calmed and light broke through, people burst screaming from the 200-odd homes that fill the forested mobile home park.
"It was just panic running," said Peggy Mosley, 54.
Circling a home
Tommy and Angelina McCainzie saw people frantically circling a crushed home.
"They were telling us the babies were under the tree," Angelina McCainzie said, but the couple couldn't find anyone in the home. "We felt horrible," she said.
Residents scrambled desperately through the ruined stands of trees, searching for victims and equipment.
They broke into sheds to find chain saws, then set upon the trees that blocked entrance roads, she said.
Many stayed on site as firemen and medical squads arrived, but authorities evacuated the site soon afterward.
Residents of the park slept in emergency shelters, motels, cars and friends' homes that night.
They returned Sunday and formed a crowd outside as police blocked the park's entrance.
By Sunday afternoon, more than 100 people waited as teams of police, arborists and utility employees cleared dangers in the complex.
Manuel Coronado and Angelica Albares, parents of two of the deceased children, sat roadside with friends and family.
"They are devastated," said Consuelo Kwée, director of Centro para Familias Hispañas. "They cannot comprehend what is happening."
Centro para Familias Hispañas, Church in the Woods and other service groups arrived throughout the day with food and clothing for residents, many of whom had not returned to their homes.
By nightfall, a manager of the park announced that the entire community was still unsafe for residents.
"It's utter destruction," said Perry, the police major. "It's unlike anything I've ever seen before."
Many among the crowd were unsure where they would sleep in the nights ahead.
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