Tornadoes explode across central NC

More than 30 tornadoes reported Saturday, capping three days of deadly weather

RALEIGH, NC | April 16, 2011

At least 35 tornadoes exploded across central North Carolina Saturday damaging hundreds of buildings and injuring dozens of people.

Weather forecasters had predicted an extremely rare high risk of severe weather for the state Saturday -- the first time since 1984 the threat level had been posted that high.

"It's really bad," Raleigh fire Lt. Adam Stanley told the Raleigh News and Observer Saturday evening.

Employees and customers at the Sanford, NC Lowes home improvement store escaped serious injury according to WRAL-TV.

Employees said they saw a "wall of churning debris and winds" headed for the store and herded everyone to the back of the building. The store was demolished by the storm but only minor injuries were initially reported.

At the height of the storm, 90 counties in North Carolina and southern Virginia were under severe weather and flood warnings.

According to members of the Fayetteville Police Department, Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, Fayetteville Fire Department, Fort Bragg and Wake County emergency responders were amongst the agencies responding to help survivors.

In Cumberland County, two shelters were opened Saturday night for storm survivors.

The storms capped three days of violent weather and tornadoes that killed at least 13 people and left others homeless as storms ripped through the southern United States, officials said.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency Friday following reports of two tornado touchdowns in at least six counties, as storms knocked down trees and snapped power lines.

Three people were killed in Autauga County when trees fell into mobile homes and at least one person was killed in Marengo County. Two deaths were previously reported in Oklahoma and seven people died in Arkansas.

"This is a serious storm that has already caused significant damage across the South. I hope Alabamians take extreme caution while these storms move through," Bentley said.

The National Weather Service issued alerts in Georgia Friday night and extended a tornado watch set to expire at midnight to Saturday morning.

Georgia Power reported nearly 20,000 power outages as storms dropped golf ball-sized hail and knocked down trees.

Atlanta's Dogwood Festival scheduled for Friday night was moved to Saturday and the Atlanta Braves canceled a Friday night game against the New York Mets after a 55-minute rain delay.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said forecasters expected the weather to improve later Saturday, with temperatures rising to the 60s and 70s.

UPI reporters contributed to this story.

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