Rare January Tornado Confirmed in Western NC

ELLENBORO, N.C. (AP) — Weather officials confirm there was a tornado in the storm system that swept through parts of western North Carolina this week, flinging mobile homes into valleys, damaging dozens of buildings and injuring nearly 20 people.

The storm system struck Rutherford and Burke counties on Wednesday, as a cold front moved through the western Carolinas. A National Weather Service survey team reported the system produced a tornado of EF2 strength, with winds of roughly 115 miles an hour.

“The trailer started shaking and we were gone,” said Samantha Owens of Ellenboro, in Rutherford County. “It just picked and we just started rolling.”

The mobile home where Owens lived with her mother and four children was thrown off its foundation, she said Thursday. Her mother was taken to a hospital in Charlotte with a concussion, but Owens and her children escaped with minor scrapes and bruises.

“Not even a year ago, we had a house fire and we lost everything,” she said as she searched through the ruins of her home for items that hadn't been destroyed. “We were trying to start over, and then this happened.”

At least 10 people were injured in Rutherford County and nearly the same number in Burke County, emergency officials said. There were no fatalities reported by Thursday afternoon.

“We are certainly thankful for that,” Burke County Manager Bryan Steen said.

At least two of the injuries in Rutherford County were serious, sheriff's Sgt. Dwayne Wright said, but officials didn't know the extent of those injuries.

In Burke County, 16 homes were destroyed by the twister, with another 50 suffering various amounts of damage, according to Fire Marshal Mark Pitts. About six businesses were also damaged.

At least five people were hurt when the storm struck a few minutes later in the Icard area in eastern Burke County, Dixon said.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter in Icard, in eastern Burke County, and about 15 people stayed there overnight. Steen said county officials were ready to help anyone who still needed a place to stay Thursday.

Wind also struck a marina in Caldwell County late Wednesday, damaging at least three boats. It was not clear if a tornado had hit the area. No injuries had been reported.

The storm cell that caused the damage dumped hail in South Carolina before moving into North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service. Tornadoes have happened in the past in January, but they're far more common in the spring and fall, said Andrew Kimball, a meteorologist in the weather service's Greer, S.C. office.

“It's extremely odd, extremely rare,” Steen said. “I don't ever remember a tornado in North Carolina in January.”

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