Originally created 11/17/06

Death toll jumps to 12 after storms hit



RIEGELWOOD, N.C. - A tornado flipped cars, shredded trees and ripped mobile homes to pieces in this little riverside community early Thursday, killing at least eight people, authorities said.

The disaster brought the two-day death toll from a devastating line of thunderstorms that swept across the South to 12.

Kip Godwin, the chairman of the Columbus County Commission in North Carolina, said authorities had concluded their search of the area where the eight people died - a cluster of mobile homes and an adjacent neighborhood of brick homes - and had accounted for everyone.

Twelve people were hospitalized, including four children in critical condition, hospital officials said.

The storms, which began Wednesday, unleashed tornadoes and straight-line winds that overturned mobile homes and tractor-trailers, uprooted trees and knocked down power lines across the South.

In Louisiana, a man died Wednesday when a tornado struck his home. In South Carolina, a utility worker checking power lines Thursday during the storm was electrocuted. In North Carolina, two people died in car crashes as heavy rain pounded the state, dropping as much as five inches in some areas.

Off the coast, a Coast Guard helicopter lowered a pump to a fishing boat that was taking on water in 15-foot seas about 50 miles from Charleston, S.C. One crewman was aboard the 34-foot boat, which the Coast Guard escorted back to land.

The tornado that struck Riegelwood - situated on the Cape Fear River about 20 miles west of Wilmington - hit shortly after 6:30 a.m.

"There was no warning. There was no time," said Cissy Kennedy, a radiologist's assistant who lives in the area. "It just came out from nowhere."

As many as 40 mobile homes were damaged before the tornado crossed a highway and leveled three brick homes. About 100 people were left homeless, and dozens planned to sleep at a shelter at a nearby elementary school. At least two of the dead were children, Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten said.

Household debris, including carpet and a laundry basket, was scattered along a road. The storm dumped a minivan in a ditch, and an open refrigerator that still had food inside was filled with rainwater.

County Commissioner Sammie Jacobs said that four to five mobile homes were demolished, and that there were "houses on top of cars and cars on top of houses."

"We've stepped across bodies to get to debris and search for other bodies here this morning," Mr. Jacobs said.

The storm knocked out power to 45,000 customers in North Carolina, but the electricity was back on in most places by mid-afternoon.

The storm system also caused minor flooding in the Washington area, where rescuers grabbed several people stranded in their vehicles and slowed commuters along most of the East Coast.

In upstate New York, sections of Interstate 88 were closed after mudslides caused a multi-vehicle crash, seriously injuring one person. Drivers abandoned vehicles in high water, and rain washed out several roads and flooded hundreds of basements in the Binghamton area, police said.

Rain had eased or stopped in most areas by Friday evening as the system moved north and east.