GREENSBORO — A motorist was killed when a tree fell on his car and hundreds of homes and businesses in Greensboro were damaged Sunday afternoon as a suspected tornado raced from south to north along the city's east side.
The tornado, not yet confirmed, was first spotted near U.S. 29 and East Gate City Boulevard about 5:15 p.m. on a rainy, cloudy afternoon. Roughly 15 minutes later, a second suspected tornado was reported in the Monroeton community southwest of Reidsville.
City Manager Jim Westmoreland told reporters Sunday night that the National Weather Service has not yet confirmed that a tornado struck the city. Weather service officials will be here Monday to determine whether to blame the death and damage on straight-line winds or a tornado.
Greensboro police said Anthony George, 48, of Greensboro was killed at 5:46 p.m. when a tree fell on his moving BMW at East Cone Boulevard and Ceasar Street.
Two other people were injured in the same incident: Renee George, 49, a passenger in the BMW; and Becky Combs, 48, of Liberty, who was driving a Dodge Avenger that was hit by the same tree. Neither woman suffered life-threatening injuries.
No other people were reported injured during or after the fast-moving storm. Emergency personnel are going door-to-door Sunday night in affected areas to make sure there are no other deaths or injuries.
The weather service warned of tornadoes all Sunday afternoon, which turned cloudy and then rainy. And then the rain fell harder and the wind started to blow.
"It was real quiet and calm and then the wind picked up and it went downhill from there," said Kay Cassidy, whose backyard fence at her South English Street home was a casualty of the storm.
Damage was extensive on Greensboro's east side and in pockets of Rockingham County.
In Greensboro, the worst of the damage occurred in a four-mile line that stretches roughly from Barber Park to Phillips Avenue.
Multiple city streets are closed because the storm knocked down numerous trees and power lines.
Guilford County Schools will be closed Monday because of extensive damage and power outages at 15 schools and the Franklin Boulevard administrative offices.
Three schools — Erwin, Hampton and Peeler Open elementaries — sustained severe damage.
At Hampton Elementary, the storm destroyed the mobile units parked next to the Trade Street school.
LaToy Kennedy, Hampton's principal, said she hoped her students and their families are OK.
"We're a family," she said. "We'll get through this together."
Elsewhere in Greensboro, the storm tore off part of the roof of the McGirt-Horton Branch Library on Phillips Avenue.
On Rankin Mill Road, a car wash lost its roof. On South English Street, an apartment complex also lost part of its room. The storm turned vehicles upside down on Phillips Avenue. Numerous homes were damaged, some badly, throughout the city's east side.
On Sunnycrest Avenue, several men were preparing for a Masonic lodge initiation ceremony as the storm approached. They left the lodge before the winds kicked up. They watched from a distance as the storm toppled the cinderblock building.
Mary Rogers was returning home from a neighborhood convenience store when she saw the tornado. She sought shelter in a neighbor's house. The neighbor is usually asleep in the afternoons, Rogers said. On this day, the neighbor was awake and let her in.
"I saw everything from the back door of my neighbor's house," Rogers said.
At Rogers' home nearby, Andrew, her 10-year-old son, was watching TV. A piece of debris shattered the window in the room where he sat. Next door, a tree crashed through the roof above another neighbor's kitchen.
Walter Jones, whose Avalon Road home backs up to Hampton Elementary, said he heard a loud rumbling noise and took shelter with his family in a hallway in the middle of the house.
Then he heard a cracking sound. After the storm had passed, he found a large wooden beam sticking through the front wall of his house.
T.J. Johnson was asleep when his mother called to warn him about the approaching storm. His home in the Briarwood neighborhood, where he has lived for 20 years, was spared. But several others nearby houses were damaged.
"I heard the rain," he said, "but I didn't know (the tornado) was right here in my neighborhood."
On Rankin Mill Road, Coty Shelton, 24, inspected a car wash that lost its roof in the storm. Nearby, the car vacuums stood unmolested.
Shelton lives on Hicone Road, not far from the damaged business. The tornado, he said, "didn't come that far, luckily."
About 23,000 Greensboro homes and businesses were without power as of about 10 p.m. Sunday. Westmoreland said the city got about 1,000 calls for service from residents between 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday. Rail service was delayed by trees that fell on the tracks near Holts Chapel Road.
The American Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at Glenwood Recreation Center at 2010 Coliseum Boulevard. Pets are allowed. For people without cars, city buses will run to the shelter from Dudley High School and the intersection of East Market and English Street.
City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, whose district was hit hard by the storm, said it will take time to turn the power back on and clean up city streets.
"Tell each neighbor to be patient," she said. "I know it can be frustrating."
In eastern Guilford County, the tornado’s touch on McLeansville Road was brief but brutal.
A silo was lifted in the air and hurled from one side of the road to the other. A shed was toppled. Shingles were scattered. Trees were split almost down to their roots.
In all, the storm cut a half-mile swath of destruction that residents say took them by surprise. And in the time it takes you to finish this sentence, it was gone.
“It hammered us,” resident Steven Glass said. “No warning. We scattered to take cover. It was crazy.
“We’re all lucky to be alive.”
As night fell Sunday, and power was out on a portion of this rural road, residents gathered with flashlights in front yards a little shaken but grateful they survived.
Comparing notes, they recalled the chill in the air moments before touchdown.
Winds gusting. And then a torrential downpour.
“It was so thick, you couldn’t see cars,” resident Josh Rumley remembered.
Jeff Roberson, in from Las Vegas to visit his father, said there was just no time to react.
“I didn’t hear it coming,” said Roberson, 48. “All of a sudden, the house started shaking. You saw trees flying. It went through pretty damn hard — and fast.
“We were scared half to death.”
In Rockingham County, county emergency officials said several people were hurt in the storm. None of their injuries are life-threatening.
Two of the injured were driving on Grooms Road when their vehicle was struck by a mobile home blown across the street.
County emergency officials also said the most severe damage was reported east of Reidsville. They said homes along Grooms Road, Frank Road and Rocky Ford Road were the hardest-hit.
Several other homes along U.S. 158 West between Garrison and Chapmon roads, northeast of Reidsville, sustained severe damage.
Elsewhere in North Carolina, severe storms caused the Charlotte airport to close briefly. Television stations in Charlotte posted images of large hail on Twitter, and the National Weather Service received reports of golf ball-sized hail in several counties.