Tornado levels homes in North Carolina; 3 dead, 10 injured

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Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office

A damaged vehicle is seen among debris after a deadly tornado tore through Brunswick County, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. North Carolina authorities say multiple people are dead and others were injured after a tornado ripped through Brunswick County, leaving a trail of heavy destruction. (Emily Flax/Brunswick County Sheriffs Office via AP)

WILMINGTON, N.C. – It was late Monday night when the power went out at Jesse Clemmons' home in coastal North Carolina. He went outside to start up the generator and heard a loud roar approaching from the woods.

“By that time, I pretty much knew what was going on,” Clemmons said.

He ran back inside, grabbed his son, told his wife to get their daughter, and the four huddled inside a closet as a monster EF3 tornado barreled their way.

The twister killed three people and injured 10 others as it struck neighborhoods just inland from the barrier island of Ocean Isle Beach shortly before midnight Monday, ripping homes apart and flipping over cars, authorities said. It was spawned along the edge of the same weather system that brought bitterly cold temperatures to much of the nation.

Clemmons was among several residents who said they had little or no advance notice of the severe weather. It wasn't until about two minutes after the storm passed that a tornado warning popped up on his cellphone, he said.

“We’ve been talking with our partners at the National Weather Service, and they were very surprised how rapidly this storm intensified,” said Ed Conrow, Brunswick County’s emergency services director. “It’s something they normally don’t see. So we didn’t have much warning. And at the time of night when most people are at home and in bed, it creates a very dangerous situation.”

The National Weather Service tweeted Tuesday afternoon that the tornado was a ferocious EF3, with winds estimated at 160 mph (257 kph).

The twister tore through the Ocean Ridge Plantation, a complex of expensive residences clustered around a golf course, collapsing some homes and damaging dozens of others. It also damaged homes in more modest neighborhoods on a highway that unspools along several North Carolina beaches.