The storm thought to be a tornado struck about 5 miles southwest of Rock Hill around 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to sheriff’s spokesman Mike Scurlock, who said there had been no other reports of deaths or injuries overnight.
Charles Hafner, 60, and his 62-year-old wife, Barbara, were killed in the storm, according to York County Coroner Sabrina Gast.
The third victim was 60-year-old Oran Courtney, Gast said.
Two people were killed in North Carolina by the same storm system, and one man died in Georgia when a tree fell on his truck.
Scurlock said seven homes were damaged or destroyed in the Rock Hill area.
Officials from the National Weather Service were expected to survey the area Thursday to confirm whether the damage was caused by a tornado.
Sheriff Bruce Bryant has asked Gov. Nikki Haley for state assistance in cleaning up the debris. Officers blocked roads leading into the area and only allowed emergency workers and power crews into the area.
A spokesman for the state Emergency Management Division said that agency was on the scene assessing the situation.
Just south of Rock Hill, Henry Taylor said he was at home with his wife when he saw a funnel cloud out his window. Taylor said he and his wife sought refuge in a closet as the storm roared outside.
“I guess it wasn’t our time,” he said. “I guess God helped us.”
Jerry Neely said his wife, Janet, was home alone when a tree crashed into their home, where she had fled to the bathroom for safety. The tornado lifted the bathtub, pinning her underneath, her husband Jerry said by phone from his wife’s hospital room Thursday.
“It’s going to be hard to overcome this. I don’t know what we’re going to do. It’s just so hard,” Jerry Neely said, adding that his wife will recover from her injuries.
Shannon Hydrick, 32, said she was in her mobile home with two young nephews when the storm hit. At first, when the 16-year-old told her he’d seen a tornado watch on television, Hydrick said she didn’t take the news seriously. But then her front door began to slam on its own, and the TV screen went blank.
“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 it felt like the house was lifting before the wind stopped, followed by an “eerie silence.”
Realizing she and the boys were safe, Hydrick said she 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 over yard.
“At least I knew we were safe,” Hydrick said. “It’s a miracle we were alive.”