A tornado touched down south of Rockingham Monday around 1 p.m., near Osbourne and McGee Roads, according to Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr.
“We did have one tornado touch down, according to witness accounts,” said Clemmons. “We’ve seen the damage that is indicative of a tornado, so it was not just high winds. We do have a photograph of the vortex of the funnel. There was no one hurt. Three houses were damaged and two of them are uninhabitable. As of right now there are no reports of persons missing or injured.”
Law enforcement, including the Rockingham and Hamlet police departments, responded to reports of homes damaged and trees down, along with the Sheriff’s Office. One downed tree blocked U.S. Highway 1 south, just past the U.S. Highway 1 - Osbourne Road intersection.
Warnings of severe weather had been posted by the National Weather Service for the counties of Alamance, Anson, Chatham, Durham, Guilford, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Orange, Person, Randolph, Richmond and Scotland just after the noon hour.
At 12:30 p.m. the National Weather Service reported a band of showers with heavy rain would edge slowly east across the Piedmont early this afternoon.
Rockingham and Hamlet were in the storm’s path.
At 440 McGee Road, Sam Gathings watched from inside his home as the sky darkened.
“It sounded like a train and then the sky back there got real black,” said Gathings. “It started to move and then all h-e-l-l broke loose.”
Gathings said the wind became so strong that the windows of his sunroom broke.
“There was a great big whirlwind and it tore the fountain down,” he said. “I was alone at home. My wife was gone. That was the first time I’ve experienced this, and I hope it’s the last time. I don’t want to see nothing like that again. It took the roofs off the next two houses.”
His wife, Louann, said she had left to take her neighbor to the store, and was approaching the intersection by her home as the tornado touched down. She said she thinks there could have been more than one.
“This is terrible,” she said as she stood in her front yard, where a plum tree was pushed over, debris lay scattered and insulation from their pump house was plastered against the treeline. “I was just coming down the road and I had to stop. Thank God I wasn’t here. I believe it was like two of them. They came from behind the house and knocked some pictures off my walls, but we are fortunate. We could have been killed.”
Matt Norris, a Lilesville police officer, received a call from his neighbor while at work that his house had been damaged by a tornado. He was unable to express the thoughts that went through his head as he traveled home, where he met his girlfriend, children and mother.
Felicia Rheault was returning from errands to her home on McGee Road.
“When I pulled up I saw stuff flying through the air,” she said. “I thought ‘Oh my God, I think it’s a tornado.’ I pulled into the driveway and could see that the roof had been hit, and there was stuff all over the yard.”
Evan Corville was sleeping in the home belonging to Eric and Felicia Rheault.
Eric was at work, and one of their daughters was at the babysitter’s and one daughter was in school.
Corville works third shift with the Anson County Sheriff’s Office.
“I woke up when I heard a crash,” he recalled. “Something sounded like a train. I opened my eyes and could see daylight coming through the roof.”
The roof above his room was ripped off. The ceiling was cracked open to expose the sky in some places. Much more of the roof inside was cracked and wet, dripping water. Water was dripping off the light fixtures and ceiling fans. Water was standing on most of the wood floor. Debris littered the entire house. The window to one room was blown out, and a shard of glass stuck into the opposite wall.
Mitchell Smith and Larry Chavis live at 576 St. Stevens Church Road, diagonally across from the homes that had roof damage. They had their porch torn up by the tornado.
“We were coming back from fishing and we saw the funnel cloud,” said Smith.
“We stopped down the road here because the trampoline came across the road,” said Chavis.
“There was debris all up in the air and spinning and the tornado was slinging it everywhere so we called 911,” said Smith. “It sounded a like a train — like roaring. I’m a little bit shaky.”
Chavis said once the funnel cloud was gone, it was “quiet as a mouse after it happened.”
David Carpenter lives at 423 McGee Road. He was under a carport during the storm with Laurie Campbell and a couple of other people.
“Very hard rain came, and the noise kept getting louder,” said Carpenter. “It sounded like a train. We saw the funnel cloud form. It looked to be about a quarter mile wide across the top. We ran inside when we saw that and got into a closet. It seemed to be going to the left of my house. It got some of my trees, but didn’t damage my house — not something I want to see again.”
Laurie Campbell was with Carpenter at the time.
“I pointed at the funnel cloud and David said ‘that’s a tornado,’” she said. “We ran inside and got in the closet. We could hear it roaring and shaking the house. I’m just happy that everyone is OK, and I don’t think any of the neighbors were hurt either.”
Cindy Guinn was with Carpenter, Campbell and Scott Faircloth.
“It was headed toward David’s house from the (U.S. 1) area, splitting trees. It was coming right at us, but it must have turned. It’s amazing how fast it popped up — out of nowhere. Once we were inside, we were probably in the closet for about five minutes. It was fast.”
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