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UPDATES: Tornado confirmed in Wednesday storm

January 12, 2012

The National Weather Service confirmed Thursday that a tornado damaged dozens of homes and injured at least 15 people in western North Carolina.

The weather service's forecast office in Greer, S.C., said Thursday that investigators confirmed the tornado with winds of around 115 mph.

The storms struck in Rutherford and Burke counties late Wednesday afternoon as a cold front moved through the western Carolinas, meteorologist Neil Dixon with the weather service office in Greer, S.C., said.

Gov. Bev Perdue toured Burke and Rutherford counties Thursday to assess the damage and support victims.

Workers with the Catawba Valley chapter of the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other agenices are supporting victims of the severe weather damage in Burke County.

According to the Red Cross, early assessments show 56 homes were affected by the weather, nine of those completely destroyed and five with major damage.
 
“The people who have been affected didn’t have much before the storms,” said Suzan Anderson, Red Cross community chapter executive in Burke County. “These people truly need the help of our community and the Red Cross.”
 
Wednesday night, 24 residents — including a 1-month-old — sought refuge in a Red Cross shelter at First Baptist Church on U.S. 70 in Icard, where volunteers provided a warm, safe place to stay, food and other emergency needs. The shelter is still open.

Ten people were hurt in Ellenboro in Rutherford County, sheriff's Sgt. Dwayne Wright said. Two of the injuries were serious, but Wright did not know the extent of the injuries.

At least 10 buildings were damaged in a 3-square-mile residential area, but Wright said officials expected to get a better count on the damage during surveys Thursday.

Some people initially were trapped in their homes.

"Everybody's out that we know of," Wright said. "As far as we know, everybody has been accounted for."

A woman in Ellenboro told WCNC-TV that a neighbor's roof ended up in her front yard.

"It felt like the whole house was shaking, and all at once you could hear stuff just breaking apart and tearing up. It was frightening," said Mary Jane Hollifield.

At least five people were hurt when the storm struck a few minutes later in the Icard area, Dixon said.

County officials initially estimated 50 buildings had been damaged, he said.

Burke County schools opened two hours later than usual Thursday.

Wind also struck a marina in Caldwell County late Wednesday, damaging at least three boats. It was not clear if a tornado hit the area. No injuries had been reported.

A weather service survey team planned to tour the area Thursday to confirm that the damage was caused by a tornado, as well as to determine how strong the storm was, Dixon said.

The storm cell that caused the damage had dumped some hail in northwestern South Carolina before moving into North Carolina, he said.

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