Twisters strike again

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 13, 2008

LEWISTON – For the second time in as many days, two tornadoes touched down in the Roanoke-Chowan area leaving a trail of damage behind.

The most extensive damage in this set of storms was found in Bertie County on the Connaritsa Road and Piney Woods Road.

There, a total of 10 homes were completely destroyed and 33 more were damaged. Luella Baptist Church was also severely damaged, as part of the building fell victim to the twister.

Two people who were in a mobile home on Connaritsa Road were injured and hospitalized.

One has since been released, but the other is still in critical condition.

The mobile home itself was torn up and thrown across the road, reportedly as its occupants were still inside.

Bertie County officials declared a state of emergency as of 7 p.m. Sunday evening after the twisters touched down around 6:30.

The strongest storm, categorized by the National Weather Service (NWS) as an EF-2 tornado, left a trail of destruction along the Piney Woods Road before rampaging down Connaritsa Road as well.

Another, smaller EF-0 tornado belonging to the same storm system touched down on Hexlena Road and left approximately a 50-yard trail of damage.

A press conference was held at the Lewiston Fire Department, which is being used as disaster relief headquarters, at 11 a.m. Monday.

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb, acting as public information officer for the emergency operations, spoke to the assembled group of press.

&uot;First I’d like to thank the governor and the state emergency management office; they responded very quickly to last night’s events.

Also thank you to (State House) Representative Annie Mobley for being here and (Bertie) Commissioner Norman Cherry as well,&uot; he began.

Lamb went on to tell of the extent of the damage.

Sunday night approximately 1200 people were without power.

Electricity to most of those homes has since been restored, except the actual areas where the tornados touched down.

At the time of the press conference, Lamb reported 50 structures either destroyed or damaged countywide and an estimated $2.5 million in damage.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald learned that hours later that figure had already increased to 60 structures and $3 million in damage.

&uot;Teams are still assessing the damages and we’re still getting reports in, so these are still just preliminary figures,&uot; Lamb noted.

Damage was also reported in the northern part of the county where the storms reportedly wrought more destruction.

&uot;We believe there may be several other areas where the tornado continued to the northern parts of the county.

Damage has been reported on Hexlena Road (near Aulander), Sally Freeman Road (near Powellsville), Simon Farm Road (Colerain), Oscar Street (Colerain), and along Highway 42 (near Trap),&uot; Lamb stated.

All in all, he reported an estimated 20-25 mile trail of scattered destruction from the storm’s path.

Rickey Freeman, Bertie County’s Emergency Management Coordinator, explained what probably happened along the storm’s path.

&uot;What likely occurred is that the same tornado touched down several times over a long path, but skipped over some areas,&uot; he stated.

Many locals noted a similarity to the path the tornado in Lewiston took as compared to a deadly storm in 1984 that killed eight people.

Lamb and other county officials confirmed the parallel.

&uot;That storm also took a path through Piney Woods and Connaritsa Road, very parallel to the same track of Sunday’s tornado,&uot; Lamb acknowledged.

NWS official Rick Curry, out of Wakefield, Virginia, said that more study and assessment may be done in other parts of the county today (Tuesday).

Bertie County School System shut all schools countywide Monday while waiting to assess damage to buildings to ensure they were structurally sound.

School is scheduled to open as normal Tuesday and a makeup day for Monday will be announced in the near future.