Tornadoes in Southeast kill 6, flatten houses
Posted: Friday, November 18, 2011 8:01 pm
By MITCH WEISS
and MICHAEL BIESECKER
ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — Survivors told of cowering in closets or running for a sturdy bathroom a day after a tornado-spawning storm system passed through the Southeast, flattening homes and killing at least six people in three states.
Across the region, dozens more were injured, scores of buildings were damaged and thousands were without power. Meteorologists confirmed Thursday that tornadoes had struck Louisiana and Alabama a day earlier and twisters were suspected in Mississippi, Georgia and the Carolinas.
“It looked like the ‘Wizard of Oz,”’ Henry Taylor said, describing a funnel cloud outside his home near Rock Hill. “It was surreal, and for a moment, a split second, you say to yourself ‘This ain’t real,’ then reality sets in, and you know it is.”
The 50-year-old Taylor said he and his wife sought refuge in a closet as the storm roared. Part of his roof was torn off, windows were blown out and trees had been snapped in two. But he and his wife escaped injury.
“I held my wife closely in the closet and I prayed. I said, ‘Oh my God, this is it. I’m going to be buried in the debris. We’re going to die,”’ Taylor said Thursday, wiping back tears.
The sheriff for surrounding York County asked South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for state assistance in cleaning up the debris. Authorities blocked roads leading into the area and only allowed emergency workers and power crews in.
To the northeast, a woman and her 3-year-old granddaughter were killed near Lexington, N.C., when a suspected tornado splintered a home with them inside, leaving only the foundation. A day after the storm passed through, an American flag marked the spot where their bodies were found. At least 10 others in the area were injured.
A Georgia motorist was killed Wednesday when a tree crushed his SUV north of Atlanta.
Ideal conditions for severe weather were created when a cold front stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast collided with unseasonably warm air, forecasters said. Temperatures dropped in some areas from the low 70s to the 50s as the front passed.
Still, it’s not unusual for the region to have severe storms in November because temperatures can fluctuate wildly, said National Weather Service meteorologist Neil Dixon.
In Alabama, the National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes hit communities in the western and central parts of the state and continued to assess a suspected twister that demolished mobile homes at a pair of housing parks near Auburn University. The campus was spared major damage.
It was the worst bout of weather for the state since about 250 people were killed during a tornado outbreak in April the state.
As weather service experts fanned out to assess damage, Auburn graduate student Staci DeGeer didn’t have any doubts about what sent a pair of trees crashing through her mobile home.
“I’m from Kansas; I know tornado damage,” said DeGeer, who wasn’t home at the time. “It’s kind of hit or miss. There will be two or three (trailers) that are bad and then a few that are OK.”
Trees fell on homes in southeastern Mississippi, where Jones County emergency director Don McKinnon said some people were briefly trapped. Mobile homes were tossed off their foundations. In all, 15 people were hurt in the area.
Back in the Rock Hill area of South Carolina, 32-year-old Shannon Hydrick said she was in her mobile home with two nephews when the storm hit. Not long after a tornado watch was reported on television, the screen went blank and her front door began to slam on its own.
“It happened so fast,” said Hydrick, who tried to get the boys into a bathroom for safety. “I knew we were in trouble. I was scared we weren’t going to make it.”
A few seconds later, Hydrick said felt like the house was lifting before the wind stopped, followed by silence.
Realizing she and the boys were safe, Hydrick took a deep breath, then ran outside to survey damage. Trees in the backyard were snapped, part of the roof was ripped off, and debris was strewn all over yard.
“At least I knew we were safe,” Hydrick said. “It’s a miracle we were alive.”
Biesecker reported from Lexington, N.C. Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins in Rock Hill, S.C., and Bob Johnson and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., contributed to this report.
Published in The Messenger 11.18.11