RALEIGH, N. C. — Twin tornadoes smashed through North Carolina Monday on a 200-mile path of death and destruction that killed four people, injured 157 and left more than 500 homeless.
The first of two tornadoes that touched down at least 17 times hit Raleigh about 1 a.m., cutting a 10-mile swath several hundred yards wide that demolished houses, apartment complexes and businesses.
When the devastation ended minutes later, a fashionable northwest Raleigh neighborhood of tree-lined streets and stately homes costing up to $500,000 looked like a battle zone.
In Raleigh alone, damage was estimated at $25 million. But the tornadoes then hopscotched across the eastern half of the state, inflicting extensive damage to other communities before their final touchdown on the Outer Banks.
The tornadoes killed at least four people, including 8-year-old Janet Barnes, who died in her bed when a chimney collapsed on top of her, and 12-year-old Pete Fulghum, who died of head and chest injuries at a medical center.
In Nash County, Leroy and Mary Alston were found dead outside their demolished mobile home, their arms wrapped around each other in a final embrace. Their two young children suffered only minor injuries.
At least 157 people were injured, including 10 admitted to hospitals. A spokeswoman at Wake Medical Center in Raleigh reported that one man was in extremely critical condition in the neuro-intensive care unit.
Authorities, fearing a much higher death toll, sent rescue crews and firefighters door to door in the damaged area, but Assistant Fire Chief Robert Whittington said no additional bodies were found.
"We have had hundreds of firemen canvassing the damage area house by house," Whittington said. "We have been to every house that has been damaged and I think we have found everyone who has been killed or hurt. Everyone has been accounted for, I think."
The tornadoes caught residents and emergency management personnel by surprise, with the first warning sounded 15 minutes after the twisters had hit.
"It seems like no one knew it was occurring," Raleigh Mayor Avery Upchurch said. "People said they felt very disturbed by the warm temperatures--they sensed something. But, as far as official weather forecasts, it doesn't seem anyone was forecasting this was coming.
"When you see the houses totally destroyed, it's a miracle we have as many people walking around unharmed as we do," Upchurch said. "I can't believe it. I've talked with people whose houses caved in and they don't know how they survived it."
"It was the worst thing I've ever been through," Ann Mobley said as she surveyed the damage to her Raleigh apartment. "There was a flash of blue light. It roared right through."
The twister sucked a sliding glass door from Mobley's patio, picked up furniture inside and tossed it about like toys. But it left a Christmas tree untouched, disturbing not one of more than 75 glass ornaments.