As the sun rose Thursday morning, the tremendous scale of the devastation became apparent.
A windy, narrow path called South Fork Road, in Icard off Old N.C. 10, was one of the hardest areas hit.
You had to pass through a police roadblock just to get access to the street.
Burke County sheriff’s officers said there were several reports of looting in the area the night before, when January tornadoes ripped through the region, injuring dozens, damaging nearly 60 homes and changing people’s lives.
Driving along South Fork, signs of the storm were virtually everywhere.
If a house didn’t have a hole in the roof, then it didn’t have a roof at all. If a home wasn’t leaning off its foundation, then it had been completely uprooted and thrown across the street.
Everything — everything — along South Fork was affected in some way or another. Most of it was major damage.
Down one side street that didn’t have a name, a mobile home leaned into a ditch on the side of the road. A man looked in, stepped back and shook his head.
“Nothing,” he said.
The mobile home had been lifted from its foundation and tossed across the street, into the ditch. The storm probably carried the trailer, as a whole, more than 50 feet in the air before plopping it down alongside the road.
Most of the homes along South Fork and its side streets were trailers or small, one-story houses. While some of them were turned on their side or broken into big pieces, others were totally destroyed — obliterated into thousands of small pieces of wood, trash, food, home electronics, ovens, various plastics and vinyl siding.
The tornadoes had consumed all that was civil, or normal, and returned an array of random stuff.
Tricycles, hula hoops, congratulatory plaques and a million other items were everywhere. Unleashed animals ran across the street and there was even a presence of livestock, as a goat was chained to a mailbox and two chickens huddled under an untouched picnic bench.
However, despite the array of “things,” the entire neighborhood was quiet. Eerily quiet.
Down Rock Lane, another side street off South Fork, home insulation hung in the trees like freshly powdered snow.
Washing machines, mattresses and even a Karaoke machine lay in what used to be the living room of Eddie and Ronda Lane. The married couple, who had lived on Rock Lane for years, were sitting inside their home when the tornado lifted and tossed their house down a hill at about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.
They were flipped over and over until the house stopped just before careening down a steep 100-foot slope.
“I don’t know how we survived, other than God,” Ronda said. She sat in a plastic lawn chair on Thursday, staring out into a tall, twisted pile of her belongings. “All I can see is insulation everywhere I look.”
The couple heard the storm coming, and Eddie said his first priority was to protect his wife.
“I just throwed myself down on top of her and said, 'Hold on honey,’” he said.
They then started rolling, as the tornado picked up and tossed the home.
“We went around in circles and then all of the sudden we were flipping,” Ronda said. “God held us in his arms and sheltered us.”
A few moments later the house stopped. Ronda, Eddie and the couple’s five dogs all survived. They crawled out from underneath a pile of wreckage, just beside the stove.
The two were then taken to the hospital. Eddie received stitches in his right leg, and they were released. Without a home, the two spent the night in a Red Cross shelter, and will now stay with one of their daughters.
“We’re going to take a deep breath, let reality set in and then start over — that’s all we can do,” Ronda said. “That’s all we can do.”
As Ronda kept staring out into the large debris pile and working with her family to recover what was left, it was clear that starting over would be difficult. She, like the other storm victims need help and need it now.
Like so many other victims, Wednesday and Thursday will be days the Lane family will never forget.
For Ronda, though, the tragedy happened to fall on the most special of days. A person’s personal holiday.
It was her birthday.