Daylight shows views of storm damage
Published: Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 8:50 a.m.
A tornado that wreaked havoc Wednesday on the central Davidson area of Davidson County is to blame for two deaths, including a 3-year-old girl, and resulting in between $15 and $20 million in damage countywide.
Sam Watford, chairman of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners, declared a state of emergency for a large portion of central to eastern Davidson County on Thursday evening. It allows law enforcement agencies to “control movements of people in public places” and “restrict other activities or conditions the control of which may be reasonably necessary to maintain order and protect lives or property during the state of emergency.”
Jeff Smith, director of Davidson County Emergency Services, confirmed Thursday morning that a woman either 49 or 50 years old and a girl who is a family member were killed at a home on Meadow Run Lane off Old Burkhart Road. The woman was transported to a hospital, and the girl was taken to a trauma center, Smith said.
Their names were not being released Thursday pending notification of all their family members.
Neighbors identified the victims as the grandmother and granddaughter. Nate Kepley lives two houses down from where the victims lived.
Standing not too far from where the grandmother and granddaughter's home was completely destroyed and demolished, Kepley, who alerted 911 of the woman being trapped Wednesday evening, recalled the difficult moments after the possible tornado.
After the suspected tornado departed Meadow Run Lane, Kepley went outside to find the woman trapped in debris. He said all he could see was her arm sticking up in the air.
“I got down to her and started pulling everything off of her,” Kepley said. “I kept asking if anybody else was home. She wouldn't tell me. She was like, ‘just help me, help me.'”
Kepley, whose house received minor damage as a result of he storm, said he went up to Old Burkhart Road to seek help.
“It took me 20 minutes to get a fire truck,” he said. “I stood out in the middle of Old Burkhart Road screaming for a fire truck.”
Kepley said he knew a child lived at the home.
“We looked for that little girl for about three hours and found her smashed between two pieces of foundation. Her arm was struck. You can tell it was broke real bad and stuck between the foundation. We all pushed on stuff to get her out and get her to an ambulance. We all looked at each other and knew it was real bad.
“You just count your blessings and thankful that you are that lucky not to be two houses up.”
A tornado warning was issued in the county around 6 p.m. Wednesday and expired about 6:45. Smith said the National Weather Service indicated a storm moving through Rowan County shortly after 5 p.m. Calls began to pour into the county 911 center at 5:40 p.m.
Smith said he initially received a report of a tornado touching down on the Rowan County side of High Rock Lake.
Major damage was reported to homes and buildings on Allred, Young, Hedrick Mill, Old Burkhart, Noahtown and Clarksbury Church roads and Old Highway 75 in the central and eastern parts of Davidson County.
Smith said the destruction was fairly narrow, stretching about seven to nine miles from its initial impact to when the tornado departed. The National Weather Service said the width of the damage was 200 yards.
“At this time, our damage assessment team has been out into the field so we can get a windshield view of what we've got going on in the field,” he said Thursday morning. “… We have rescue teams out searching every house that has damage. We are walking through the debris field from south to north.”
Smith said Thursday evening that 60 homes received damage, 25 homes were destroyed and five or six businesses were destroyed. He said he could not identify those businesses Thursday evening.
Smith said 15 patients were treated at local or regional hospitals as a direct result of the storm. He said one or two of those patients were still hospitalized Thursday evening.
Smith noted that 40 residents have been displaced. A shelter had been set up at Davis-Townsend Elementary for the displaced residents Wednesday night. Smith said the shelter would remain open Thursday night, and about 10 people were expected to utilize it.
“Due to the fact of the weather change, we feel some citizens who may have had shelter last night may seek shelter today,” Smith said.
The National Weather Service confirmed Thursday afternoon the destruction was caused by an EF2 tornado, said Shawna Cokley, a meteorologist with the weather service in Raleigh. An EF2 tornado has winds of 111 to 135 mph.
The Davidson County Airport recorded 6.64 inches of rain Wednesday and another .50 inches Thursday morning.
Smith said the county was in good shape with its resources to handle the devastation.
“We are handling it all with the mutual aid agreements we have,” he said.
Smith said it has been yet to be determined whether the impacted area will be declared a disaster area. He said Wednesday's storm appears to be of a bigger magnitude than last year's tornado that struck Davidson County. Smith said he had a phone conversation with Gov. Beverly Perdue on Thursday afternoon. He said the governor was supportive of anything the county needs.
Mike Moore, chief of the Central Volunteer Fire Department, called the damage from the storm “severe.”
“We had 18 to 19 different volunteer fire departments assist us with the search and rescue, going door and door making sure everyone was OK,” he said.
Bill Brent, regional chief executive officer for the American Red Cross, said his main focus concerning the devastation in Davidson County has been meeting the immediate needs of residents who were impacted.
“As we determine what needs there are, then we will work with the families to meet those needs,” he said.
Three people stayed overnight in an emergency shelter at Davis-Townsend Elementary School.
Meredith Palmer, public information officer for Davidson County Schools, said school personnel monitored the weather throughout the night before making a decision to begin classes two hours late for students Thursday. Staff members reported at the regular time.
South Davidson Middle and High, Silver Valley Elementary and Brier Creek Elementary were all without power at some point Wednesday night, but it was restored by Thursday morning. No school buildings were damaged, she said.
“We had to wait and see exactly what the circumstances would be” before making a decision, Palmer said. “We felt that it was very prudent this morning to make a decision to go two hours late. We wanted the light of day for people to travel and buses of course.”
Brier Creek Elementary School, in addition to Davis-Townsend, was used as an emergency shelter Wednesday.
Darrick Ignasiak can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 217, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.