Riegelwood, NC – Residents of Riegelwood say almost everyone in the tornado-ravanged neighborhood was related or knew each other.
The storm tore apart dozens of mobile homes and houses in it's mile-long path of destruction, killing eight people, including two children. Twenty others, including four more children, were injured, some critically.
Roughly one hundred people have been unable to return to their homes. Officials reported that, as of Friday, all but one family had found shelter with friends or family members.
Riegelwood resident Ivan Long lives in the area hardest hit. Standing alongside highway 87, watching long lines of cars that had come to survey the damage, Long called the destruction unbelievable. Thursday morning's tornado sounded like a freight train in his front yard, Long said.
I can hear these housing exploding as they were coming apart. Every time a house would explode you could hear it, it was like a loud explosion. You know.
Winds during the tornado topped 200 miles per hour.
Firefighter Mike Brown was among the storm's victims. His rescue chief, Donna Hammond remembers Brown as a dedicated member of the force.
He loved it all, Hammond said. He would get up in the middle of the night and run that call that nobody else wanted to run. He loved Riegelwood, he loved this, this was, he worked, but this was his life.
Hammond says that the force will honor their colleague by taking up a scholarship fund for his daughter, who survived and is staying with relatives.
Although the damage from Thursday's tornado did not rise to federal disaster status, the state is providing some funds for medical care, funeral expenses, and home construction. State officials are also working with the Red Cross to help those displaced fill out forms for low-interest federal rebuilding loans.
Riegelwood does not have a tornado siren system. But officials say even with such a system, the community's sprawling nature, the noise of the storm, and the speed with which the twister spun up would have made it difficult to warn people.