'We all hurt': Bertie County neighbors react to Isaias tornado deaths

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— Neighbors are mourning after two people were killed in a tornado that hit a neighborhood in Bertie County early Tuesday.

Sheriff John Holley said the damage from the tornado, which was spawned by Tropical Storm Isaias, was the worst he’s seen in the 38 years he has worked at the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s bad,” Holley told WRAL News. “It doesn’t look real. It looks like something on TV. Nothing is there.”

Holley said he got a call at about 1:30 a.m. that a tornado hit a neighborhood on Morning Road in the town of Windsor. The damage was so extensive that deputies blocked off the area and wouldn’t let anyone get to the neighborhood.

At least 10 homes are gone, and crews couldn’t even reach one home because it was blocked by a tree, he said.

Resident Desaree Pike said she rode out the storm with her two young sons in a bathroom for a terrifying two minutes.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to react once it finally hit. I mean, it hit all at once,” Pike said. “For lack of a better word, it was hell. You don’t really think about anything else but just holding the kids and hoping it doesn’t tear the house up.”

When she emerged from her home, she saw most of the neighborhood in ruins.

“I’ve seen all of my neighbors out and about this morning trying to clean up the best they can the debris, just reuniting with family members, happy they made it out,” she said.

Sandra Bell, who lives a second neighborhood the tornado hit, said she heard the storm and also ran for cover.

“It was so loud like a roar, like a train,” Bell said. “All I could do was jump up and get my oldest daughter so she could help me get my mom, and we went in there to grab her to go in the bathroom. We made it halfway to the bathroom, and it was just a lot of debris hitting the house.”

The tornado damaged her roof, downed trees in her yard and scattered debris. It also flattened a nearby home, but those residents escaped with minor injuries.

“It was just terrifying. It really was,” she said, adding that she’s just thankful she, her mother and her daughter weren’t hurt.

Longtime Windsor resident Mike Cofield said he’s used to tornadoes coming through the area.

“About the time I got up to get to the bathroom, it was coming, and it didn’t sound like it was on the ground,” Cofield said. “It came and went over there by the top of my house.”

“You really don’t realize it until you see the aftermath,” he added of the nearby destruction. “It happens, and you know you just have to deal with it and hope it gets better.”

Gov. Roy Cooper plans to visit Windsor on Wednesday morning to assess the damage.

Two children and their mother were unaccounted for until Tuesday afternoon, when authorities determined that the mother was at work and the two children were safe with their father, Holley said.

“I’m not ashamed to say it, I got on my knees and prayed that God will keep us all safe,” Windsor resident Dana White said, expressing thanks that the children were found unharmed.

“You just know everybody in some shape, form or fashion, so when somebody gets hurt or something bad happens, we all hurt,” White said of the small community. “I’ve cried many a tear, and I’ve prayed many a prayer, and I thank the Lord that he did answer that about finding those remaining ones safe. So, there is a silver lining to that gray cloud.”

First responders spent much of the day clearing debris from the Morning Road area.

“There are still valuables on the ground like generators and guns,” the sheriff said. “We’re trying to make sure no one takes anything that isn’t theirs.”

Holley said it’s an emotional scene for his team to work.

“One minute you’re fine, and the next, all hell breaks loose,” he said.

“I can’t even put into words. I just can’t imagine what those people had to go through,” White said. “This has got to be heavy on the first responders searching for these people.”

The tornado was the latest tragedy to hit Windsor and Bertie County:

  • Tropical Storm Julia that dropped 17 inches of rain on the area in 2016, and 138 people had to be rescued from the high waters.
  • A dozen people died in an April 2011 tornado outbreak, when a storm cut a path across Bertie County, from Colerain to Askewville.
  • In 2010, heavy rains left Windsor underwater for several days.

Donations for area residents affected by the tornado can be mailed to P.O. Box 530, Windsor, NC 279839 or by calling 252-794-6144.