Stories of trees being splintered like baseball bats and families huddled in their homes that were ripped from their foundation are beginning to emerge after over 240 tornadoes ripped through a large portion of the country on Saturday.
Jonathan Robinson saw a tornado moving toward his mobile home in Dunn, N.C., and grabbed his cousin’s 3-month-old son and dashed for a closet in his bedroom. But as he dove for safety, the twister took his home apart around him and swept the baby into the dark, swirling afternoon sky.
“As soon as I jumped in the closet, it came down and that little baby flew out of my hand,” he said. “I seen him leave my arms. That’s how strong the wind was.”
Immediately after digging himself out, Robinson joined family members at the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park frantically digging through the rubble all around them for little Ayden.
“I thought he was lost,” Robinson said, after finding the baby.
Justin Dunlow, who lives in Askewville, N.C., said he prayed as a wall in his mobile home fell on top of him and his two young children.
"I can replace the house,” said Dunlow, 23, a roofer. “But I can't replace my babies. And that's what I thought about. I'm alive. My babies are alive."
Audrey McKoy, who lives in nearby Bladen County, was with her husband while a tornado took a turn toward her mobile home where she was with her husband.
"It looked just like 'The Wizard of Oz,"' she said.
The two hid in their laundry room and heard snapping trees and other homes being destroyed around them. When they stepped out to see the damage, it took them a moment to realize the twister had turned their own home around, leaving them in the backyard.
Tornadoes formed over much of the Deep South and then hit North Carolina and Virginia before moving out to sea Sunday.
North Carolina, where tornadoes as loud as freight trains roared through Saturday afternoon and evening, suffered at least 22 deaths, reported the Wall Street Journal. The storm also destroyed 60 homes and heavily damaged 400 more, according to emergency management officials in the state, where Gov. Bev Perdue has declared a state of emergency.
Cindy Busick told WFMY News 2 that she looked out her window in Sanford, N.C., and saw the tornado headed right toward her house.
"I [saw the tornado] coming and I called my sister in Pennsylvania to tell her goodbye," she told WFMY News 2. "I don't know how I ever survived."
As the tornado ripped through her house, pulling the foundation out of the ground and throwing Busick 50 yards, her sister managed to stay on the line during the entire ordeal.
"I just felt the house going up in the air," she said. "I was already in the bathtub, me and [my dog] Bella. ... Then everything just came down on me."
Lisa Handlin, who was at church with her husband and two boys in Merrill, N.C., told WSAW-7 that she saw toppled trees on her way home and saw her fireplace from outside her damaged house.
"I turned the corner and all I could see was the fireplace and obviously you can't see the fireplace from outside, so I knew it wasn't good," she said,
While Connie Owens’ home was picked up by the twister, she had already been in her closet wearing a helmet, reported WITN.com.
"I got several big chunks in the top of that helmet so the stuff that was hitting my head, that helmet saved my life," she told the station, after she reportedly landed 40 feet from the original foundation.
North Carolina officials have tallied more than 130 serious injuries, 65 homes destroyed shake their home off its foundation.
"There were mattresses and everything was just flying in the air. Just flying. Spinning in the air. Just kept spinning," Angela Wynn said.
In Bladen County, emergency management chief Bradley Kinlaw said 82 homes were damaged and 25 destroyed in Saturday's storms.
At least 21 were killed by Saturday's storms that spawned some 60 tornadoes in the southeastern part of the state. One of hardest hit areas was Bertie County, where 11 people died. Gov. Beverly Perdue says federal help is expected to help clean up the devastation that nearly brought her to tears. Saturday was North Carolina's deadliest day for tornadoes since 1984, when 22 killed 42 people and injured hundreds.
With the Associated Press.