At least a dozen homes were damaged and three minor injuries reported after a strong band of thunderstorms swept across North Carolina today, spawning tornado warnings and one possible twister touchdown.
One minor injury was reported in Wilson County, where officials think a tornado touched down near the town of Sims in the eastern part of the state. As many as a dozen homes were damaged, and 25 people were forced to seek refuge in a shelter set up at Rock Ridge Elementary School.
Two minor injuries were reported in nearby Nash County, where state Crime Control and Public Safety spokesman Ernie Seneca said two mobile homes were destroyed and power lines were brought down.
The storm brought heavy rain, lightning and smothering clouds to downtown Raleigh, obscuring the city's skyline for part of the evening. Tornado sirens sounded at North Carolina State University on Raleigh's west side. A flash flood warning was issued for Wake County because of the sudden deluge.
A tornado watch was in effect from the Charlotte area toward the northeastern coastal counties, an area including the Triangle, until midnight.
The National Weather Service said there were indications of at least one tornado, but no confirmations would be made until Wednesday.
Rodney Dancy, Wilson County preparedness coordinator, said as many as a dozen homes had either moderate or severe damage. He said the storm recalled memories of violent weather just six months ago.
"We were hit back in November and it came in the middle of the night," Dancy said. "We did lose one life here and one in Johnston County."
Alice Guthrie said a fast burst of wind ripped roofs off several homes and barns about a quarter-mile from her home, which was not damaged. As the storm closed in, the 38-year-old mother of three shepherded her children next door to her parents to watch news reports.
"All of a sudden the lights went out and I got up and looked out the window and I could see the tornado ... now whether or not it was one I don't know. I said, 'Get in the basement,'" she said, recalling watching trees swaying in circles.
"I kid you not, I don't think we were down there one minute before it was calm again," she said.
Seneca also said a home was heavily damaged in Pitt County, where power lines were also brought down.
In Johnston County, emergency personnel set up a staging area at the Antioch Fire Department, where an apparent tornado reportedly missed the firehouse by mere yards.
Melanie Proctor, a spokeswoman for Johnston County, said one home was destroyed in the county and that officials were out searching for any signs of additional home damage.
"The line of damage appears to be about 6 miles long — trees down, power lines down," Proctor said.
To the west, a series of thunderstorms flooded several Charlotte streets and forced the rescue of more than a dozen people from cars and homes in high waters.
National Weather Service meteorologist Ron Humble said the series of storms was the result of a front stalled across the state from northeast to southwest, combined with an upper-level system. Temperatures north of the front had dropped into the upper 50s to low 60s, while south of the front, temperatures were in the 70s, creating the stormy conditions.