Tornadoes ripped through a department store, destroyed mobile homes and churches and damaged apartment buildings Monday, killing five people and injuring more than 143 others, authorities said.
Three of the deaths, including an 11-year-old boy, were in Wake County, which includes Raleigh, and the others were in neighboring Nash County, officials said.Gov. Jim Martin said three storm systems hit the state and at least 15 tornado touchdowns were reported in seven counties.
"I can remember hearing a big gust of wind like a hurricane and then I could hear the wood tearing and I thought, `Oh God, this is it, I'm gone.' I just buried myself under the bed," said Betty Bell of Raleigh, who was in bed when a tornado hit.
Raleigh City Manager Dempsey Benton Jr. said 62 people were taken to hospitals in Wake County, including three who required surgery. At least nine houses were destroyed and 44 damaged, he said.
Roger Friedenson of the Insurance News Service said it appeared that damages could be as serious as tornadoes that struck southeastern North Carolina in 1984 and caused about $65 million in damage. City officials said 500 people were homeless.
Martin, at a 6 a.m. briefing, said six people had died, but later, officials said one of those deaths was not storm-related.
Later, the storms moved into eastern Virginia, pushing over trees and bringing heavy wind and rain, the weather service said. A tornado warning there expired at 6 a.m.
Power outages were widespread in North Carolina, authorities said.
In northern Raleigh, a K mart store was flattened, and three people were trapped inside, said police Sgt. J.D. Everett. All three were rescued, but one man suffered a broken leg, said Assistant Fire Chief Robert Whittington.
In addition to the flattened apartment buildings, numerous others suffered structural damages, said Deirdre Bolling, manager of the Coop-er's Pond complex. No one in those buildings was seriously hurt and residents were given lodging at hotels, she said.
The first rescue workers on the scene there pulled people from third-floor windows. Several residents wandered around dazed, with visible cuts. One man wore only a bath towel.