Tales of survival amid NC tornado destruction

AP News
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Posted: Apr 17, 2011 8:19 PM
Tales of survival amid NC tornado destruction

At least 21 people were killed when tornadoes hit North Carolina over the weekend. The state was hardest hit by a storm system that spawned dozens of tornadoes from Oklahoma to Virginia. Here are a few stories of survival.

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Twenty-one-year-old Jonathan Robinson saw the tornado moving toward his mobile home in Dunn, grabbed his cousin's 3-month-old son and dashed for a closet in his bedroom. But as he dove for safety, the twister took his home apart around him and swept the baby into the dark, swirling afternoon sky.

"As soon as I jumped in the closet, it came down and that little baby flew out of my hand," he said. "I seen him leave my arms. That's how strong the wind was."

Immediately after digging himself out, Robinson joined family members at the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park frantically digging through the rubble all around them for little Ayden.

"I thought he was lost," Robinson said.

Several long minutes later, someone found the boy under a wooden board, unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital, where miraculously emergency room workers found only minor injuries.

"He's really blessed to be here right now," said Ayden's mom, 21-year-old Ciera Robinson, as the boy's grandmother sat nearby giving the baby a bottle. "He's good now. He ended up with a lump on his head."

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All John Lucas had left from his fight against the tornado was his door handle and part of the front door.

The roaring winds from Saturday's tornado at the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park ripped open his front door. As he grabbed the handle to close it back, the storm ripped the rest of the door away and collapsed the walls.

Buried under those walls, Lucas, 73, shouted for help and neighbors directed rescue workers his way. He was checked out at the hospital, but suffered just scrapes and bruises.

A decision Lucas made more than 30 years ago to fasten down his roof with three straps anchored three feet into the ground may have saved his life by keeping his home from flying apart like more than half of the 40 other houses in the park.

"I wasn't hurt. I was just pinned down on the floor and couldn't get out," Lucas said. "According to what those people tell me, I'm a lucky man."

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Neither Carolyn Troyon nor her husband Chuck knew what to do in a tornado because they had never seen one in their more than 70 years.

With the sky turning pitch black in the afternoon and winds howling, the two made it to the bathroom in their home near Clinton as quickly as they could. Hobbled by their age, they couldn't get there before the front windows shattered, leaving Chuck Troyon with a deep gash on his forehead. He was recovering at a Raleigh hospital.

The house shook as they huddled in the bathroom. "I thought we were going to die. I thought this was it and I began praying," Carolyn Troyon said.

Their son Rick, who lives beside them wasn't home. A tree smashed through his house, and he spent most of the day cutting it apart.

"I was worried," said Rick who drove as fast as he could as soon as he heard news of the tornado. "I didn't know what happened. Not knowing was difficult."

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Angelina McCaizie and her family never heard the warnings for the tornado that moved through the Stoney Brook Mobile Home Park about five miles north of downtown Raleigh.

She was cooking when the rain and wind started. Once she saw a branch fall past the window, she gathered up everyone in the home and they huddled in the kitchen.

"I got all my kids, my nephew, my brother, everybody, into one area in the kitchen and everybody just ducked down," McCaizie said.

The storm passed quickly, and they scrambled outside to check for damage and see if their neighbors needed help. She saw several people bleeding and others with broken bones. McCaizie said someone ran up to her shouting, "Please help me! Please help me! I need 911."

"It was horrible," McCaizie said. "It was terrible."

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The Rev. Darren Whitehurst spent Saturday night digging some of his parishioners out of the rubble of their homes after a tornado roared through Bertie County. On Sunday, he helped with Greater Wynns Grove Baptist Church's service which had to be held outside in Colerain.

The church couldn't use its worship building, which was damaged, or its education building, which was demolished. The steeple was swept away in the wind and hasn't been found.

The message for Palm Sunday's service was helping others in need.

"It's been a trying night. It's been a bloody night," Whitehurst said. "But God is still good."

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Associated Press reporters Mitch Weiss in Clinton and Tom Foreman Jr. and Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh contributed to this report.