RIEGELWOOD, N.C. (BP)–North Carolina Baptists were quick to respond when the state’s second-deadliest tornado in 50 years swept through a small community, killing eight people, injuring 20 and destroying dozens of homes.
“We are running a small feeding operation and have some disaster relief chaplains in place, and we’ll be assisting the survivors with going through the debris that was left by the storm,” Gaylon Moss, disaster relief director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, told Baptist Press.
The feeding unit is set up at Riegelwood Baptist Church, about 20 miles west of Wilmington. A 1,000-foot-wide tornado struck Riegelwood in the early morning Nov. 16, carving a path more than a half-mile wide and almost a mile long, according to the Star-News newspaper in Wilmington. The sights of scattered bodies, heaping debris and flipped cars are being described as a “major catastrophe” and “total devastation.”
Among the dead were two cousins, both under the age of 12, who had been dropped by the tornado near a pond, the Star-News said. Chris Batten, the Columbus County sheriff, said about 20 people were taken to area hospitals with injuries and about 30 homes were leveled.
Residents were taken by surprise Thursday morning when they heard a loud rumbling sound and looked to see a huge funnel cloud bearing down on them. Some sought refuge in closets and under tables, the Star-News reported. Others had no time to flee. The National Weather Service estimates most of the damage occurred just eight minutes after a tornado warning was issued for the area at 6:29 a.m.
“There was no warning. There was no time. It just came out from nowhere,” Cissy Kennedy, who lives in a neighborhood hit by the tornado, told the Star-News.
The tornado was part of a strong system of storms that moved through the South leaving a two-day death toll of 12 people. As it moved north, power outages disrupted Amtrak service in the Northeast corridor and people had to be rescued from cars in rising water in Maryland, the Associated Press reported.
About 45,000 customers in North Carolina lost power Nov. 16, AP said, but crews were able to restore most of it by mid-afternoon. About 100 Riegelwood residents were left homeless by the tornado, and some were seeking shelter at a local elementary school.
Moss, the disaster relief director, said no members of Riegelwood Baptist Church were directly affected by the twister but they were working to minister to the community.
A hospital spokesman told the Star-News that families were “in distress” over trying to locate missing family members and grieving the loss of those who died.
“We have two chaplains in Riegelwood providing spiritual and emotional care to emergency workers and survivors,” Moss said.
Other Baptists volunteers are working alongside the victims to make sense of the debris.
“The first step would just be to help them dig through the rubble, to be there to offer an extra set of hands to help them sort through what they have left and try to help them through that,” Moss said.
Compiled by Erin Roach.