COLERAIN, N.C. (WNCT) — Eastern North Carolina has seen its share of extreme weather and natural disasters – but little compares with what happened 10 years ago Friday. A devastating tornado outbreak hit North Carolina, killing 11 people in Bertie County.
People’s lives were changed forever when an EF-3 tornado with winds over 135 mph hit the town of Colerain. Houses and businesses were destroyed and lives were lost. Since then, the town has worked hard to rebuild, but heartache from the storm still haunts people today.
Homes were torn apart just five miles from where Alice Tayloe lives. She and others in the community took time off work so that they could help with during the storm’s aftermath.
“I think it’s just the sense of we’re all family here, you know, it doesn’t matter what you do, what you say, where you go to church or if you don’t go to church,” Tayloe said. “We still love you, we still want to do for you, and I think it’s just a great community.”
Tayloe said it’s taken a long time for people to recover from the destruction. She also said there are still traces of the storm in Bertie County like dilapidated buildings and metal debris.
“Just two times there has been what’s designated as a high-risk day in my time of working as a broadcast meteorologist for 30 years,” said Storm Team 9 meteorologist David Sawyer.
Ten years ago Friday, a string of tornadoes tore through our state, killing two dozen people.
“This is the type of storm that you read about, hear about and cover from the Midwest in what’s called tornado alley,” said Sawyer. “Tornado alley was happening here in Eastern North Carolina that day.”
Sawyer remembers that Saturday like it was yesterday.
“From about 1 p.m. to almost midnight we were on the air continuously covering tornado after tornado,” he said. “Over 30 confirmed tornadoes in the outbreak.”
A few of those tornadoes still stand out to Sawyer.
“One in Greene County where an EF-3 tornado, winds over 160 miles per hour, ripped through a good portion of Greene County,” he said.
That storm left a gaping hole in Greene County Middle School’s gym.
“Had that been a school day, the amount of injuries and likely deaths would’ve been just tremendous at Greene County Middle School,” he said. “The fact that it was a Saturday was indeed a real god-send that there were people not at work, not at school.”
Then a secondary tornado formed and moved into Farmville. Another tornado moving through Bertie County left 11 dead.
“Tremendous damage to people’s lives, communities wrecked, schools broken,” said then-Gov. Bev Perdue back in 2011.
One funnel cloud that formed in Ayden was heading right toward WNCT.
“I literally practiced what I preached at that point,” said Sawyer. “I told everyone on air that we, as a television station, were going to be getting into our safe place and our director continued from his location underneath a desk. I was underneath the desk in the weather center. Continued just to talk through and try to keep everyone apprised of the storms.”
That’s something Sawyer had never done before.
“It was a first in the sense of I’ve of course been tracking and warning viewers about tornadoes for my entire career, but yes, that particular moment, it became extremely personal and real,” he said.
Sawyer said storms like this remind him why he loves his job.
“The accuracy of our system to be able to track that storm to the street level, which we have that capability to this day here in the Storm Team 9 Weather Center, to keep our viewers ahead of those types of storms,” he said. “That is why we do what we do.”