On this day: Small NC town nearly leveled by devastating F4 tornado

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It only took six hours for 22 twisters to injure more than 1,000 people across North and South Carolina – and kill 57.

On this day 40 years ago, the Carolinas Outbreak, which spawned the infamous Red Springs Tornado, laid waste to Eastern North Carolina in the most destructive outbreak in Carolina history. At the time, it had been a century since the Carolinas had seen a comparatively lethal and destructive storm.

Red Springs Presbyterian Church it was nearly destroyed by a 1984 tornado that ripped off its steeple and dropped it into the church, crushing the walls.

It was March 28, 1984 when the storm system began marching up South Carolina, spitting out powerful F2, F3 and even F4 tornadoes on the Fujita scale.

South Carolina saw 11 tornadoes before the system reached North Carolina, where 11 more developed – ripping through Cumberland, Lenoir, Nash, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson and Wayne counties. In the end, the loss and life and injuries were immense, and the total damage reached $578 million.

Red Springs, NC saw some of the worst devastation.

Red Springs Presbyterian Church was nearly destroyed by a tornado in 1984.
Red Springs Presbyterian Church was nearly destroyed by a tornado in 1984.

Red Springs Tornado

The deadly storm claimed two lives in Red Springs, including a 2-year-old girl, and left 300 injured.

James Melvin was in his house, watching as the storm approached. His home was spared, but the trees in his backyard were ripped apart.

“It sounded like you poured a gallon of milk on a big bowl of Rice Krispies – and they were gone,” he said.

A tornado nearly destroyed Red Springs Presbyterian Church, ripping off its steeple, then dropping it onto the church, crushing the walls.

Red Springs Presbyterian Church
Red Springs Presbyterian Church

“I walked down where the organ was, and there was a piece of sheet music that was still sitting up on the organ,” Red Spring resident Chip Watson recalled. “With 200-plus mile an hour winds coming through that night, yet that piece of sheet music sat there.”

George Paris, who was mayor at the time, said the Red Springs Tornado caused $2.5 million in damage to the town.

Red Springs Presbyterian Church
Red Springs Presbyterian Church

“The impact of it really didn’t settle in till probably about three months later and you got to thinking about, ‘Well, you will never see this again. You’ll never see this huge oak tree or you’ll never see this home,’” he said.

Four years later, another tornado ripped through Raleigh, killing four people and injuring 157 – and destroying another church, Asbury United Methodist Church.

WRAL News has documented the history of some of the worst storms and tornadoes to impact North Carolina.