CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. — A man died and four other people were injured after an EF-1 tornado hit a Catawba County neighborhood on Tuesday, the National Weather Service confirmed. At least two of the victims were reported to be in critical condition.
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The tornado was on the ground for a short period of time around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, the NWS said. Preliminary reports show it was a “high-end” EF-1 with winds that reached 110 mph.
Surveyors said it ended just on the other side of the Iredell County line. They’re still working to find out exactly where it began.
The Catawba County Sheriff’s Office said it happened on Cindi Lane and Evening Drive off of Old Catawba Road, just south of Interstate 40. Deputies and first responders went from home to home Tuesday searching for victims in the community 2 miles east of Claremont.
The man who died was identified as 39-year-old Dustin Ray Weaver. Officials are warning that a GoFundMe circulating for him will not benefit him or his family.
By Wednesday afternoon, only one of the four hospitalized victims remained in the hospital. The other three were discharged with minor injuries, the sheriff’s office said.
“It looks like classic tornado damage,” said Maj. Aaron Turk. “We have some houses that have no damage at all, and the next house is completely destroyed.”
Family members and friends said Weaver was trying to protect his pregnant girlfriend when the storm hit.
“He was protecting his girlfriend and the baby and he didn’t make it,” said his sister-in-law Cassandra Perrigan.
“It’s so sad. Lives lost, people you grew up with, people you’ve loved,” friend Serena Carver said. “It’s sad.”
Family members of woman are asking for prayers for her and her unborn baby. They said she has serious injuries and has undergone surgery. Her baby is being closely monitored.
Ryan Whisenant was one of Weaver’s close friends.
“He opened the door and seen it. He ran and jumped on top of his girlfriend and shielded her with his life,” he said. “The other guy got thrown in the yard. He put his life on the line for her.”
Daniel Birtken said he was also friends with Weaver.
“It’s funny because we were working on my car at 4 o’clock this morning. He was out here with me,” Birtken said. “It was raining and everything.”
“That spirit of doing as much as he could to help people couldn’t have been truer than when the storm hit,” he added.
It’s not yet clear what happened that led to Weaver’s death, but Birtken described hearing something horrifying.
“She heard glass breaking and she heard a big boom,” Birtken said. “(She) said the power went out. She said it was terrifying.”
Neighbor Bobbie Dugger said she and others ran to Weaver’s home, which was picked up by the wind and moved 75 feet across the yard.
“Everybody came together to try to lift the roof off of her,” she said. “We finally got them unburied and pulled Dustin out first. And Amy was still stuck in there and was too bad to move her.”
‘The good Lord seemed fit for us to stay alive’
Multiple homes were destroyed. Some even lifted off the ground and were moved more across the yard by the strong winds.
Channel 9′s Dave Faherty spoke to Leigh Wimbley and his wife, Wanda, who showed him what’s left of their home. Much of the roof came off as the couple tried to save themselves when the storm hit around lunchtime Tuesday.
“I heard the winds, the strong winds blowing and I said ‘Leigh let’s go for the closet.’ We went to go in the closet and the door blew off,” Wanda said.
“The good Lord seemed fit for us to stay alive and that’s what I’m thankful for,” Leigh said.
Neighbors said rain began falling early that morning and then the wind suddenly picked up.
“There was no sirens. There was nothing on the phones, nothing. If we didn’t hear it, we wouldn’t have known it was coming,” Casandra Perrigan said. “I screamed for my kids and threw them in a bathtub and got on top of them. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Faherty could see the tops of trees were twisted in a way that was consistent with tornado damage.
“This mobile home was about 100 feet back that way,” Robert Robinette said.
He says he lost his carport in the storm. He went to check on his friends after it blew over.
“It’s something you would see on TV. It’s terrible,” he said. “What can I say? It’s absolutely terrible. I hope everybody is OK.”
About 30 people have been displaced, county officials said.
Neighbors said they saw what they believe was a funnel cloud and a tornado touching down, lifting some of the mobile homes off the ground.
Severe Weather Center 9 Meteorologist Keith Monday says the storm was packing some very strong winds. It was coming out of Burke County, where reports of several trees down came in just after 12 p.m. There was no Severe Thunderstorm Warning, though.
VIDEO: NWS explains why there was no warning ahead of Claremont tornado
Radar wind estimates continued to show very strong winds as the line moved into Catawba County. A review of radar wind velocities shows very brief rotation right over Claremont at 12:29 p.m. and within a minute or two, it was gone.
This storm was well north of the Tornado Watch area. Instability in that area was nearly non-existent.
Those last two factors are likely the main reasons why the storm was not warned on, Monday says. It happened so quickly and was not in an area where tornadic development was necessarily expected.
People living in the community said the strongest winds lasted for only about a minute. Bobbie Dugger said she heard the storm first and then saw the funnel cloud bearing down.
“Winds were so heavy, trees were falling behind me, chairs blowing past my head as I was running through the yard, and then it blew the door off the building,” she said.
The American Red Cross is helping residents at a temporary shelter that was set up at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church at 3180 West Main St. in Claremont. It’s open for those who have been relocated due to the storm. There are cots, blankets, restrooms, and food.
Residents seeking shelter at Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church are advised to bring the following:
- Medications and related medical supplies
- Personal care items (toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.)
- A change of clothes
- Food if you have special food needs
- A pillow and blanket if you prefer to use your own
For questions about the shelter’s accommodations, call 828-465-8355.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team will be heading to Claremont to provide “emotional and spiritual support.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Claremont,” said Josh Holland, international director of the BG-RRT. “We want to encourage residents that Jesus is the Savior in the midst of storms. He is our source of hope in times of trouble. He will give us the strength we need. We are sending our crisis-trained chaplains to pray with, comfort, listen and share God’s love with those who have been impacted by this storm.”
A Gofundme page has been made to help Weaver’s girlfriend as she recovers in the hospital, click here to donate.
(WATCH BELOW: Tree falls on home in north Charlotte)
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