At least 22 people were killed during a brutal wave of storms and tornadoes that battered Virginia, North Carolina and other Southern states over the weekend, leaving swaths of devastation and knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of people, officials said Sunday.
The brunt of the storm system was felt in North Carolina, where officials said more than 70 tornadoes were reported in 19 counties. At least 22 people died and 80 were injured during the storm, and tens of thousands remained without power Sunday as officials scrambled to assess the damage and rescue survivors.
Three members of one family were killed at a trailer park in Raleigh, the capital, where residents milled around Sunday hoping to return to their damaged homes. Longtime resident Peggy Mosley told the Associated Press that she hunkered down with pillows inside a bathroom to ride out the vicious storm.
“I went and got into my small bathroom and just sat in there and cried and prayed until it was over,” said Mosley, 54.
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) began touring storm-ravaged parts of the state Sunday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in North Carolina who’s been through this horrible day,” she said after declaring a state of emergency.
Meteorologists said it appeared to be the deadliest U.S. storm since February 2008, when 57 people died in tornadoes in southern states and the Ohio Valley.
The storm began Thursday in Oklahoma, where at least two people were killed, before gaining strength and sweep as it roared eastward over the next two days. Officials in Virginia, Arkansas and Alabama reported at least seven dead in each of those states, while one person also died in Mississippi, according to news reports.
In Virginia, the storm hit hardest in Hampton Roads while also lashing Alexandria and other Washington suburbs with flash flooding and fallen trees. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) declared a state of emergency after the storm, which included a massive tornado that uprooted trees, destroyed homes and killed three people in Gloucester County.
At the Surry Power Station near historic Jamestown, the storm caused an automatic shutdown of two nuclear reactors after a tornado apparently touched down nearby and cut off an electrical feed to the plant, officials said.
Dominion Virginia Power said Sunday that there was “no threat to the station workers or the public,” and that electricity was being provided to the plant by an off-site power source and backup diesel generators. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission dispatched a team of inspectors to the plant after the incident was reported.
The storm prompted tornado warnings Saturday in and around Washington, but no severe injuries were reported in the immediate area. A tornado was reported in Augusta County, Va., near Staunton, and one death was attributed to high water in Waynesboro, west of Charlottesville.