RIEGELWOOD, N.C. – Survivors picked through the rubble of their flattened homes Friday and divers planned to search a nearby pond after a tornado killed eight people in this riverside town, the area hardest hit by a devastating storm system that swept into the Northeast overnight.
Gov. Mike Easley said Friday that four of the 20 people injured when the tornado struck Riegelwood remained in "very, very critical condition." Several of the injured were children.
The deadly storms left a three-day path of destruction from Louisiana to Maine, killing 12 people, knocking out power and flooding streets.
Hundreds of people in New York and dozens in Maryland had to be rescued Thursday from homes and cars caught in flash flooding. Most of Maine was still under a flood watch Friday.
The tornado that hit Riegelwood left about 100 people homeless, but all residents were believed to have been accounted for, Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten said Friday. He said a water search team still planned to check a nearby pond for any additional victims.
Residents, meanwhile, were getting a chance to retrieve whatever valuables they could salvage from devastated homes.
Darryl McNair had been sleeping when the tornado picked up his mobile home and tossed it across the street into his neighbor's yard.
"You could feel the house moving," McNair, 34, said during a break from picking through rubble Friday.
"My whole life was in that house," he said. "Everything that was me was in that house. How could you lose everything in so short a time? I struggled to get that stuff and now it's all out in the road like it was nothing."
As the storms moved northward with heavy rain, officials in Broome County near the Pennsylvania line rescued more than 200 residents from cars caught in flooding and from homes as water approached front doors and poured into basements.
One man clung to a tree as his car was swept away by flood water, county spokeswoman Darcy Fauci said. Sections of Interstate 88 east of Binghamton remained closed by mudslides Friday.
"Lots of roads are washed out, several areas of the city are shut down and impassible," said Lt. John Shea of the Binghamton Police Department. "But, as we speak, things are improving because the rain has stopped."
Dozens of schools in Broome, Chenango and Delaware counties were closed Friday, many because of impassable roads.
Three freight cars derailed in Bowie, Md., and investigators were trying to determine whether the storm caused the wreck, CSX Corp. spokesman Gary Sease said. The empty coal hoppers jumped off tracks shared with Amtrak trains, bringing down some power lines. No one was injured.
Amtrak service was delayed between Baltimore and Washington on Friday, while a commuter line serving the cities was suspended for the day.
Most of the dead in Riegelwood were found within 200 yards of where the tornado touched down, Batten said.
"We assume they were literally consumed by the tornado," he said.
The community on the Cape Fear River, about 20 miles west of Wilmington, has no tornado sirens.
"There was no warning. There was no time," said Cissy Kennedy, a radiologist's assistant who lives in the area. "It just came out from nowhere."
Three tornadoes also touched down in the western part of the state — destroying about a dozen homes and downing trees in Lincoln, Iredell and Gaston Counties, the National Weather Service said Friday. Officials said five people were injured.
In Louisiana, a man died Wednesday when a tornado struck his home. In South Carolina, a utility worker checking power lines Thursday during the storm was electrocuted. Two people died in car crashes in North Carolina as heavy rain pounded the state.