Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tornado watch issued | surf, advisory, high - Jacksonville Daily News

Updated at 1:44 a.m.

An unknown number of base residents sustained injuries and nearly 30 homes were damaged following a series of tornados that touched down in the vicinity of the Tarawa Terrace II housing area Saturday evening, according to base officials.

One seriously-injured child is known to have been evacuated to Pitt County Memorial Hospital.

Of the damaged homes, five have been characterized as uninhabitable.

A temporary shelter has been opened at TT2 Elementary School to provide immediate care for displaced persons if necessary, according to a press release from Camp Lejeune. The base Emergency Operations Center has been activated to provide a coordinated response throughout the night and a local incident command center has been set up at the TT2 fitness center.

Updated at 12:11 a.m.

Base officials said there are unconfirmed reports of roughly 20 injured people from the Tarawa Terrace housing area receiving treatment at Onslow Memorial Hospital, two with reportedly severe injuries.

Base spokesman Nat Fahy said it is too early to characterize the nature of the injuries of the others.

Five homes at Tarawa Terrace II are confirmed demolished by Saturday night's tornado, and many others have been damaged, officials said.

Updated at 11:38 p.m.

A long day of tracking deadly tornadoes sweeping across North Carolina did not end well in Onslow County, where a twister touched down in multiple locations in the dark of night Saturday.

There were reports of heavy damage and injuries in the Piney Green area in eastern Onslow County and the Tarawa Terrace II housing area aboard Camp Lejeune. Details were sketchy as officials limited access to both areas while emergency teams moved in to assess the damage and help out victims.

Norman Bryson, assistant director of the Onslow County Emergency Operations Center, told The Daily News that a tornado damaged Holiday City Mobile Home Park and other areas along Piney Green Road.

Bryson said multiple homes were damaged and there were “several patients,” including some with critical injuries.

Military officials said base commander Col. Daniel Lecce had gone to base housing around 10 p.m. to inspect the extent of the damage left by the tornado. At least a dozen houses aboard Tarawa Terrace II were believed affected by the event, and possibly as many as 30, officials said.

Tim Strickland, spokesman for Onslow Memorial Hospital, said about 30 trauma victims had been received at the hospital by 10:30 p.m. as a result of the storm. Strickland said that number was expected to rise as people trapped in their homes were freed.

OMH was working with Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Pitt County Memorial Hospital. The hospital had received patients from Camp Lejeune and was working to transfer some to New Hanover and Pitt County so patients could receive care as soon as possible.

Brian Cullen, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Newport, said while the tornado remained unconfirmed Saturday night, it was likely that it was one tornado rather than multiple.

After a day of high winds and threatening weather, the full force of the storm swept through the Onslow County area around 8 p.m.

“More than likely … it was one tornado but until we go out and survey that we really can't say that officially but that's kind of what it looks like. A lot of times these long track tornados will have continuous paths,” Cullen said, explaining that the tornado would have touched down, lifted back up and then touched back down.

As if the winds weren’t enough, hail was also reported during the storm, some pieces of which were as large as a half-dollar, Cullen said.

Authorities were asking that motorists stay away from N.C. 24 and Corbin Street, across from the base areas impacted by the storm. Severe damage was done to the Coastal Dry Cleaners at that location, with clothes blown about and cars in the parking lot damaged.

After the storm passed, Piney Green Road was closed from Old 30 Road to Shefield Road, with multiple emergency-service vehicles exiting to transport storms victims from the area. Sheriff’s Department and Highway Patrol personnel were controlling the scene.

An eyewitness said he observed extensive damage to at least eight, and possibly up to 15, houses in the Piney Green area. He described the homes as “leveled.”

People at the scene confirmed multiple injuries, but there was no word on any possible fatalities.

The area was described as a “debris field,” with uprooted trees, a transformer and power lines in the road, and branches and pieces of shattered homes scattered about.

Patrick McCoy was playing video games with his uncle at grandparents’ Montclair home when the power went out, he said. He said his uncle recognized the sound of an approaching tornado.

McCoy said he then jumped to his feet and started yelling for everyone to get in the bathroom.

“I actually felt the pressure building up in my ears,” he said.

After the tornado passed, McCoy and his uncle went into the room where they were previously playing video games and there was a tree branch on top of the chair his uncle was sitting in.

“If he’d been sitting there, he’d have been hit,” McCoy said.

A large oak tree crashed in the front yard, hitting the roof, but the only part that entered the house was the branch.

McCoy said another Montclair home was destroyed and the roof was torn off another.

Nearly 5,000 Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Cooperation customers were without power as of 10 p.m. Saturday, officials said.

Brynn Marr Road and Piney Green Road had more than 2,000 customers without power, said Jones-Onslow spokesman Steve Goodson. Other outages were reported on U.S. 17, N.C. 24 and on N.C. 172.

Goodson asked that customers report outages to 910-353-7117 or 800-681-4146.

While Progress Energy reported more than 175,000 customers without power in the Carolinas late Saturday night, the company did not report a specific number for Onslow County. The utility services Tarawa Terrace II.

The high winds have resulted in many downed power lines, a Progress Energy release said. Numerous transmission structures and lines are down, as well as power lines within communities across the utility’s service area. Crews were assessing damage across the system and assigning resources to the hardest hit locations.

Due to damage that has occurred to several large transmission structures, some areas hardest hit by the tornadoes and severe weather may require multiple days to restore.

For one Jacksonville man, the damage began early in the day when a tree crashed into his home.

Jose Rodriguez was watching television around 2:30 p.m. Saturday when he heard a big crash and his Northwoods-area home shook.

A large tree crashed into the roof of the laundry area and garage of his house, he said.

Rodriguez said he’d heard the wind earlier and knew it was strong.

After spending hours trying to reach someone to remove the tree from his roof, Rodriguez went to an area hardware store around 6 p.m. to get a tarp to cover the hole in roof.

Carteret impact

Despite multiple damage reports in Onslow County, Carteret saw little more than scattered power outages, officials said.

“I haven’t heard any reports of major damage in Carteret County; just of damage in the surrounding counties. For us I’ve mainly heard of power outages,” Carteret County Emergency Services Director Jo Ann Smith.

Smith said the outages have been scattered, with reports from Newport, Morehead City and as far east as Cedar Island.

She said Western Carteret Fire Department had been called to assist with incidents in Onslow County.

Correspondent Raeford Brown provided reports for this story.

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