COLUMBUS COUNTY -- A tornado hit this morning just west of Riegelwood, and at least eight people are dead and many more injured. Officials call the storm the worst disaster they've ever seen in the county.
The funnel cloud touched down before 6:40 a.m. Thursday, leaving overturned mobile homes and devestation in its wake.
Sheriff Chris Batten says there was no way to warn residents of the possibility of a tornado.
Thirty homes were damaged and 410 houses were without power throughout the day.
He says it is one of the worst tragedies he's ever seen.
"It's a major catastrophe. There is an area that's probably almost half a mile wide and reaches probably three quarters to a mile in length, stretching northward, that is totally demolished. Homes turned upside down, vehicles completely destroyed, debris over the whole area," Batten said.
The search and rescue mission was called off shortly before 5 p.m., after a woman was found in the rubble. She died on the way to the hospital, marking the eighth confirmed fatality.
Seven of the more seriously injured victims from Columbus County and two from Bladen County were transported to New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Some of the younger victims were driven to specialized pediatric centers across the state, because officials could not use medical helicopters because of the winds.
A tornado also reportedly touched down in the West Prong area, also in Columbus County, but no major damage has been reported.
Acme-Delco Elementary School and Acme-Delco Middle School were closed, as Acme-Delco Elementary served as an command post for emergency workers and for families seeking information about their loved ones.
Stay tuned to WECT news for the latest information on this developing story.