25 years after devastating NC tornado, officials remember destruction



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - May 5 will mark 25 years since one of the worst tornado outbreaks to ever hit the western Carolinas.

The tornado that moved through Cleveland, Lincoln and Catawba counties was the strongest tornado ever to hit the area.

Storms of that magnitude are very rare in our area; technology and warning time has improved 300 percent since those twisters, meteorologist Vicki Graf said.

“This was the most destructive tornado in Cleveland County,” said Dewey Cook, director of emergency management in Cleveland County.
Dewey was a volunteer firefighter and was one of the first on the scene on May 5, 1989, when the three counties were slammed by the powerful tornado.
"We opened shelters for the folks that didn’t have a place to go,” he said.
Cook said the damage was devastating and widespread but that the community came together to help those who lost almost everything.
The tornado was an F-4 and had winds up to about 250 mph, causing $6 million in damage. More than 50 people were injured and four people died.
Gene Meade has flown planes most of his life and remembers flying over the damage.
He said he never expected to see that much destruction.
"I figured just a few trees were blown down. A couple of houses or something but when we got in the airplane (and) we got to that location, the sights -- it was unreal," Meade said.

Cook said it's amazing that more people were not injured.