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Old November 16th, 2006, 01:57 PM  
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Default Seven Dead as Tornado Rips North Carolina Town

Seven Dead as Tornado Rips North Carolina Town
Alabama Skating Rink Destroyed, Children Inside Survive

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Nov. 16) - A tornado ripped apart a mobile home park early Thursday, killing at least seven people in this tiny riverside community and raising the death toll from the thunderstorms across the South to 10.

Officials searching for victims cautioned the death toll could rise.

Car crashes in the heavy rain early Thursday killed two people in North Carolina, and another person died Wednesday when a tornado struck a home in Louisiana.

In Riegelwood, dozens of homes were destroyed near the Cape Fear River, about 20 miles west of the coastal city of Wilmington, according to Gov. Mike Easley's office.

Authorities had found seven bodies in the wreckage of the mobile home park by midday, and "that number very well may go up," said County Commissioner Chairman Kip Godwin, the designated spokesman for the county's emergency management office.

"When a tornado hits a mobile home, it's probably much more devastating," Godwin said. "Most of these homes were blown off their foundations and are now just piles of debris."

Godwin said rescue workers were using back hoes and front-end loaders to sift through the rubble at the mobile home park, which appeared to take the brunt of the tornado's force.

Alton Edwards, a member of the volunteer Acme-Delco-Riegelwood Fire and Rescue team, said storm struck "with very little warning." He called it the worst storm he's seen in more than 40 years with the squad.

"There were cars on top of one another," he said. "It's just about as bad as it gets."

Also Thursday, the state Highway Patrol said one person also died in Columbus County in a wreck on U.S. 701 that may have been weather-related. Two hours to the west, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said a five-vehicle crash on Interstate 77 killed one person as heavy rain fell in the area. Those deaths took the North Carolina toll from the storms to at least nine.

Officials at hospitals in Columbus County and neighboring New Hanover County said they were treating 22 people with storm-related injuries and that at least five, including four children, were in critical condition. Easley activated the State Emergency Response Team and sent in emergency crews.

"In this job, all of North Carolina is your home," Easley said. "I know this area and I've traveled this road back and forth. I want to make sure the people there know we're very much concerned about them."

Ron Steve, meteorologist with the Weather Service in Wilmington, said the tornado touched down shortly after 6:30 a.m.

"The one really intense cell at that time of the morning moved onshore near the state line and as it got over land within a few minutes it delivered a very strong circulation that put down a tornado," Steve said.

The storms were expected to clear out of the area by afternoon.

Several states have been battered by the storms which began Wednesday, unleashing tornadoes and straight-line winds that overturned mobile homes and tractor-trailers, uprooted trees and knocked down power lines.

A tornado cut a path about two miles wide and three or four miles long in Greensburg, La., north of New Orleans, toppling trees and damaging buildings and power lines, said Maj. Michael Martin of the St. Helena Parish Sheriff's Office. A 43-year-old man was killed when the trailer he was in was destroyed, he said.

"That home just exploded," said Gordon Burgess, president of neighboring Tangipahoa Parish.

In Montgomery, Ala., high winds destroyed a skating rink Wednesday soon after 31 preschoolers and four adults fled to the only part of the building that turned out to be safe.

One child suffered a broken bone and another a cut to the head, but everyone else emerged unharmed from the crumpled wreck of the Fun Zone Skate Center, which doubled as a day-care facility.

In Mississippi's Lamar County, emergency operations center director James Smith said a possible tornado struck a subdivision outside Sumrall around 2:50 a.m., damaging or destroying 11 homes.

Smith said six people were taken to hospitals from the Sumrall area, and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said two other people were injured in Greene County.

In North Carolina, fallen trees blocked roads in Lincoln County, and another possible tornado struck about midnight in eastern Gaston County, where a steeple was destroyed and part of the roof ripped off a church. Duke Energy reported nearly 3,000 customers without power in Gaston County, about 1,200 outages in Iredell County, and nearly 900 outages in Lincoln County.

11-16-06 09:31 EST

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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