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Officials: ‘Freak Storm’ Caused Deadly North Carolina Tornado

2021-02-19 08:07:53

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that the state must learn of the surprising tornado that hit Ocean Isle Beach with little or no warning, killing three people and injuring 10.

The governor investigated most of the damage in Ocean Ridge Plantation, a neighborhood where residents recounted near-death experiences from the powerful EF3 tornado that was rapidly approaching.

Brunswick County Emergency Services Director Ed Conrow revealed that the Democratic Governor had swept roofs, knocked down trees and severely damaged homes and echoed the frustrations of residents who said they had little to no time to prepare.

"It developed so quickly," Conrow told the governor. 'I mean it was just really nothing and just exploded. Within four minutes we had a tornado hit the ground which is scary because everyone is sleeping in bed at night. "

He told reporters during Cooper's visit, "It was just a bizarre storm developing so quickly that we had no chance to respond."

Mark Willis, a meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Wilmington, told The Associated Press that his team at the federal agency issued a warning of a severe thunderstorm at 11:33 p.m. Monday, followed six minutes later by a tornado warning.

Several residents described to AP how they rushed to hide in closets and bathrooms when conditions quickly deteriorated. Some said they received a warning on their phones two minutes after the tornado had already passed.

"The storm developed rapidly and our storm research team is still evaluating the exact details regarding when and where the tornado eventually landed, how strong it was, how far it traveled and other details," Willis said in a statement.

He noted that the Storm Forecast Center had predicted a small risk for severe storms highlighting the threat of isolated tornadoes and damaging winds. He added that members of his team spoke to some residents who said the first storm alert helped them brace for the impact.

During his tour, Cooper described the damage as & # 39; devastating & # 39 ;. He pledged to spend state resources to help rebuild destroyed homes and businesses, and also figure out what could be done differently to give people more warning time the next time a severe storm develops.

"We need to look at what happened here and learn from it and see if systems can be improved," Cooper said.

Speaking to community residents – many of whom rarely wear masks despite the coronavirus pandemic – Cooper told two residents, "We will use as much state resources as we can and should help. I know it is difficult for many families at the moment. , but this community seems to be very close. "

Damage can be seen on the roof of a picnic shelter in Brunswick County, NC near the town of Sunset Beach, Wednesday, February 17, 2021. Officials say a ferocious tornado hit just inland from barrier island Ocean Isle Beach on Monday shortly before midnight. AP Photo / Chris Seward)

But some people remained frustrated and said they were not interested in talking to the governor.

Richard Dobkin, a 58-year-old resident of Sunset Beach who owns a restaurant, storage facility and a few other businesses in the area, said he hasn't slept in two days. He has been working to estimate what he believes is at least $ 5 million in damage to his businesses.

Before the tornado hit his Ocean Ridge Storage Solutions business, about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the Ocean Ridge Plantation, he said he was already struggling financially with the governor's pandemic-related business restrictions. And because his other businesses were strong, Dobkin said, he was not eligible for a loan through the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program. Now he said he sees significant losses from the tornado attack and a long road to recovery.

Two 930 square meter warehouses with items for 14 tenants collapsed. Dobkin expressed his annoyance and said no insurance expert had turned up. By late Wednesday morning, he was bulldozing the sites considered too unsafe to stay in place.

"I don't think it has started for me yet," Dobkin said. "I think it's a dream I have. I'll wake up in the morning and everything will be fine. I don't even know what to think at the moment."

Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram wants non-residents to stay out of the damaged area unless they help with the recovery. Ingram said, "The last thing we need is to be inundated with a lot of traffic and spectators while people want to pick up the pieces."

Anderson is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on classified issues.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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