RIEGELWOOD, N.C. -- A tornado flipped cars, shredded trees, and ripped mobile homes to pieces in this little riverside community yesterday, killing at least eight people, authorities said.
The disaster raised the two-day death toll to 12 from a devastating line of thunderstorms that swept across the South.
Kip Godwin, chairman of the Columbus County Commission, said authorities had accounted for everyone on their list of missing people by late afternoon . Hospital officials said at least five people, including four children, were in critical condition.
"We won't know for a while what their status will be," Godwin said.
The storms that began Wednesday unleashed tornadoes and straight-line winds that overturned mobile homes and tractor-trailers, uprooted trees, and knocked down power lines across the South.
"It almost looked like the mobile homes had exploded," said Alton Edwards, a member of a volunteer fire-and-rescue team. "There were cars on top of one another. It's just about as bad as it gets."
In Louisiana, a man died Wednesday when a tornado struck his home. In South Carolina, a utility worker checking power lines yesterday during the storm was electrocuted. In North Carolina, two people died in car crashes as rain pounded the state, dropping up to 5 inches in some areas.
Off the coast, a Coast Guard helicopter lowered a pump to a fishing boat that was taking on water in 15-foot seas about 50 miles from Charleston. One crewman was aboard the 34-foot boat, which the Coast Guard escorted back to land.
The tornado that struck Riegelwood, situated along the Cape Fear River about 20 miles west of Wilmington, hit shortly after 6:30 a.m. As many as 40 mobile homes were damaged before the tornado crossed a highway and leveled three brick homes. Some of the dead were believed to be children.
County Commissioner Sammie Jacobs said four to five mobile homes were demolished, and there were "houses on top of cars and cars on top of houses."
"We've stepped across bodies to get to debris and search for other bodies ," Jacobs said.