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March 31, 2010

Caught in the whirlwind

For hundreds of Triad residents, Sunday night was a time for cringing in closets, pantries, basements and stairwells.

But Monday dawned a little brighter – a time for assessing tornado damage in the light of day, for planning repairs and, not least, for giving thanks.

“I guess God’s the only thing that pulled us through,” said Jason Huffman, a resident of Old Mill Road whose entire family – two adults and three children – was blown right out of their house by the force of Sunday’s storm.

“I sort of felt like I rode a sheet of plywood 300 mph for 100 yards,” Huffman said.

Then, there were the people in Davidson County huddling in their mobile home as the tornado plucked it off its moorings and dumped it in a nearby lake, forcing them to swim to safety.

And how about Dan and Carol Krawiec, who reached the pantry with mere seconds to spare inside their Hampton Park home? On Monday afternoon, the pantry was about all that remained unscathed in their north High Point home, which now has no roof and most of its exterior walls missing on the second floor.

“It was a sound, I guess, like a low-hovering airplane,” Carol Krawiec recalled. “We got in (the pantry) just in the nick of time. The pantry is still standing, the stairs, not too much else.”

She noted how bizarre it was that amid all that damage, the tornado left a still-life painting hanging perfectly straight, although it had ripped away two of the roofless room’s facing walls.

The National Weather Service confirmed Monday that a series of three, full-fledged tornadoes – not just severe storms – whirled across parts of Davidson County and High Point, sowing chaos that started Sunday shortly before 7 p.m.

The storms injured five in High Point, two in Davidson. No one suffered life-threatening injury, authorities said.

The first tornado began near Linwood in Davidson with winds from 110 to 120 mph, said Lara Pagano of the National Weather Service. The second came 20 minutes later and maxed out 10 mph weaker, but still packing enough wallop to dunk that mobile home into the lake off Sink Lake Road, Pagano said.

The later one that roared through High Point formed closer to 7:30 p.m. with wind speeds as high as 138 mph, Pagano said.

“Pretty strong,” she said, noting that the storm cut a path of destruction about four miles long and damaged roughly 200 houses along the way.

The third tornado qualified as an EF3 on the weather service’s five-tier rating system, Pagano said. But numbers and rating systems do a poor job testifying to a storm’s might.

Huffman of Old Mill Road, off Johnson Street, does it more justice in recounting what happened after he, his wife and three children sought shelter in a closet inside their recently built add-on room.

“I felt myself go one way and I felt myself go the other,“ Huffman said.

“When we all come to, we was about 100 yards away. It was the biggest roller coaster I’ve ever been on. I couldn’t tell you if I was up in the air, on the ground, how I tumbled, or what I did.”

The family ended up scattered across their yard. His daughter, Lilly, 4, suffered a broken leg. Everybody else emerged with just scrapes and bruises, he said.

The storm also inconvenienced thousands whose houses suffered little or no damage but who lost power into the night and, in some cases, well into Monday. High Point city officials and Duke Power expected to restore power to all by day’s end.

Several neighborhoods looked like war zones, with houses full of broken windows, damaged or missing roofs, and yards peppered by downed trees, siding and hunks of attic insulation,

Meanwhile, contractors and insurance adjustors descended on the damaged neighborhoods throughout the day.

They assessed damage, gave homeowners estimates of repair costs and discussed what would be involved in those repairs.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like this in this area,” said Kevin Sasser, a Gibsonville contractor who was inspecting damaged houses Monday afternoon on Hampton Park Drive.

He noted that as bad as the damage looked in the Hampton Park neighborhood, most of the houses can be returned to their normal appearance and comfort.

But it will take months for some of them, he said.

High Point city officials will begin today the enormous task of cleaning up scattered building materials, tree limbs and other storm debris.

They held back Monday while utility crews removed downed power lines and fixed gas lines.

High Point Mayor Becky Smothers declared a state of emergency in the tornado’s wake, as police patrolled damaged neighborhoods and set up roadblocks to head off such potential problems as looting and rubbernecking.

“The breadth of this is just staggering,” Smothers said of the damage.

Staff photographer Nelson Kepley contributed to this report.

Contact Taft Wireback at 373-7100 or

Contact Jennifer Fernandez at 373-7064 or

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