07/02/09 — Storm blasts through area

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Storm blasts through area

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 2, 2009 1:46 PM

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A crew works to remove a fallen tree off the home of Tommy and Katrina Kornegay on Old Smithfield Road in Rosewood shortly after a severe thunderstorm passed through the area Wednesday afternoon.

Wayne County residents in the Rosewood and Belfast communities got a bit of a nasty surprise Wednesday night as a line of thunderstorms moved across the area.

Beginning shortly after 6 p.m., reports of downed trees and power lines began trickling into the Wayne County emergency communications center as high winds and heavy rain tore through several homes and businesses.

In the Rosewood community on Old Smithfield Road, Katrina Kornegay said she, her husband Tommy, their three children, and two of their friends and their three children were all at home when the storm popped up just a few minutes after 6 p.m.

"Basically it was just clear blue sky, then it started hailing and it went to zero visibility, and then we heard the tree fall," Mrs. Kornegay said. "It was just that fast -- maybe a minute.

"A friend of mine was standing at the (back) door. The door was open. It just happened so fast we didn't even have time to get out of the living room."

Fortunately, she continued, the tree that hit her house landed on the fireplace corner of their game room.

"The damage doesn't look as bad on the inside as it does on the outside," she said.

Mrs. Kornegay also said they were fortunate that her husband is a lineman for Lee Electric in Aberdeen, and that several of their neighbors are linemen, too, and were able to quickly clear the tree off the home and get a tarp over the damage -- although that didn't help the fact they were going to be without air conditioning, at least for the evening, after the unit was damaged by a falling branch.

The story was similar along U.S. 70 West, just east of the N.C. 581 intersection where two large sycamore trees split a storage shed in two.

Set down in a dip near several rental home owned by Pete Gurley of Mount Olive, the storage shed was, in his estimation, "completely totaled" by the damage, as were most of its contents, including lawn equipment, extra appliances, furniture and other items from his rental homes.

Tenant Callie Bustamante's description of the weather event was similar to Mrs. Kornegay's.

"All of a sudden I saw a lot of wind, just doubling the trees over, and the rain drops were really big, and I said, 'something ain't right,'" she said. "It looks like we were in a hurricane or something."

Fortunately, Gurley said, nobody was hurt.

"I never would have dreamed those two sycamores would come down. I just thank God none of the residences were even touched -- just a storage building, he said. "It's a blessing. By the grace of God nobody got hurt."

Residents in the Belfast community also were feeling fortunate, all things considered, this morning as they surveyed the damage.

Marie Hoover, who lives with her husband on Barnes Court off of Stoney Creek Church Road, compared the storm to a hurricane or tornado.

"It was terrible. I think we had a small tornado. I'd say the winds were at least 100 to 120 miles per hour. I think it was worse than when Fran came through. Our house just shook and now we've got cracks on both sides," she said.

She also said their back porch was torn off, her husband's workshop flattened and her storage building knocked off its foundation.

"We were very fortunate it just took off the back porch," she said. "I sit in a chair by the window and there was glass all over the chair where a branch came through the window. Fortunately I wasn't there, I was in the kitchen."

And those types of close calls seemed to the theme of the evening as a Rosewood area man said a tree came through his home right behind where he was standing in his living room.

Donnie Hamm, who lives on U.S. 70 West near the state Department of Transportation office, said that as the storm kicked up, his house started shaking and the hail "sounded like hundreds of little BBs hitting the windows."

He said he tried to open his door, but that the outside pressure was so great he couldn't even budge it -- "it was like somebody holding it shut."

But fortunately, he continued, it finally did come open, just as a tree came crashing through his living room about three feet behind him as his German shepherd Jake pushed him through the door.

Farther up U.S. 70, just east of N.C. 581, Alicia Horton, owner of Hair Works, also was thankful nobody was hurt during the storm.

"We were working with our clients," she said. "We had five clients in here."

She described a scene much like the one Mrs. Kornegay and Ms. Bustamante told about -- how it began with some thunder, a little rain, and then just a torrential downpour and hail as the winds picked up.

"It started raining so me and another girl ran out to put the windows up in our cars, but by the time we got back inside, it was raining so hard you couldn't see anything."

She added that when they opened their door to let their cat in off the porch, a deluge of water and debris came pouring in.

At that point, she continued, she "knew something wasn't right," so she and the other six ladies all retreated to a back room as the shop's tin roof peeled off.

After the storms they found part of the roof still attached, but most of it in the field behind the building and the rest in a neighborhood some several hundred feet away.

"I've never seen anything like it -- something come on that quickly and then it's all sunny two minutes later," Mrs. Horton said. "We thought it was a tornado. It was very scary. I've never seen anything like that."

But she and her co-worker stayed and finished their appointments, despite running out of power in half of the building. And, she said, she plans to be back at work today after her husband Jeff Horton and father Ricky Best spent several hours securing a tarp across where the roof was missing.

"It takes more than a rainstorm to keep us from work," Mrs. Horton said. "We've already had people calling and asking if we're open (today). We'll be here. Even if we have to cut hair on the porch, we'll be here."

But while the storm Wednesday night might have seemed like a tornado, Gail Hartfield, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said it likely was not.

"We were not in an environment that was conducive to tornados. We did have some strong downbursts in Wayne County, though," she said. "And downbursts can have winds up to 100 to 120 miles per hour that can do some significant damage, so it's easy for people to believe it was a tornado."

And while the Weather Service did not have any wind estimates for Wednesday's storm, Ms. Hartfield said 60 miles per hour definitely wouldn't be out of the question.

"I'd say that's a pretty safe bet," she said.

But, she said, the storm system, which was moving east/northeast, was "not a widespread event at all," and added that rainfall was scattered, with some area receiving "not much at all" and others "up to an inch."

All in all, she continued, it was a pretty typical summer event.

"We're getting into that hot part of the summer with a lot of humidity so you have a lot fuel for thunderstorms, so this type of activity is not unusual," Ms. Hartfield said.

Fortunately, she continued, while isolated storms are always possible, the outlook for the rest of the week and the weekend looks pretty good.

"Like we always tell people on the Fourth of July, keep an eye on the sky, but it should really be pretty good," she said.