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‘This will be a long-term event’: Three killed, ten injured after EF-3 tornado strikes Brunswick County

Updated: Feb. 16, 2021 at 5:05 PM EST
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Three people were killed, ten injured, and multiple homes were damaged or destroyed after a tornado struck southern Brunswick County late Monday night.

Preliminary data from the National Weather Service indicates the tornado was a “high-end” EF-3 with estimated wind speeds of 160 miles per hour, making it one of the strongest tornadoes to ever hit southeastern North Carolina.

Officials say around 11:50 p.m. the tornado touched down in the area of Seaside Road and Highway 17, then crossed Highway 17 into a rural area, said Ed Conrow, director of Brunswick County Emergency Services.

“A community of residential homes was impacted, we had several homes that were destroyed, several that were severely damaged. Unfortunately, we had 10 injuries that we can report at this time and we had three confirmed fatalities at this time,” Conrow said.

Heartbreaking aerial video shows the extent of the devastation in Brunswick County after last night's deadly tornado. MORE >> https://bit.ly/3arx5jQ [📹: WRAL TV ]

Posted by WECT News on Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The majority of the damage was in Ocean Ridge Plantation, however, there was another neighborhood affected off Old Shallotte Road, he said.

“We have serious destruction in [the Ocean Ridge] neighborhood, we have homes that are knocked over. We have a lot of hard work to do as a community to get it back to normal, to get it safe for the residents to go back in. It is a very hazardous situation,” Conrow said.

By noon, the county’s emergency teams had completed sweeps throughout the communities, searching through homes and other structures in an attempt to find any additional victims. As of noon, Conrow said there were no reports of missing people following the tornado strike.

The county will now move its command center into Ocean Ridge and transition to a recovery phase where officials will begin preliminary damage assessments.

“This will definitely be a long-term event, the recovery in the Ocean Ridge and Old Shallotte areas will take a lot of hard work and effort to rebuild and get the families back to a normal state of life,” Conrow said.

RELATED: ‘Overwhelmed, anxious, and just blessed’: Brunswick County woman recounts surviving deadly tornado.

The county will be working with the American Red Cross to set up a reception center to help affected residents with long-term sheltering and other emergency needs. The center will be at St. Luke Lutheran Church, located at 5869 Ocean Highway, Ocean Isle Beach NC 28469. Additionally, Brunswick County opened a temporary shelter for those displaced by the tornado. If you need help, contact Emergency Services at 910.253.5383.

“Let me start off by offering my condolences to those that have lost their lives in this event, for those that are injured ... This is a very very tragic event for our community, for our county,” Brunswick County Commissioner Chairman Randy Thompson said.

Many residents have already been relocated due to the damage to their homes, Thompson said, and neighbors are reaching out to help neighbors.

A survey team from the National Weather Service was in Brunswick County Tuesday to assess the damage and officially confirm that the tornado touched down. Preliminary data from the NWS team estimated that the tornado was an EF-3 with 160 mph winds.

The only other EF-3/F3 tornado on record in southeastern North Carolina was the twister that ripped through Riegelwood on Nov. 16, 2006. It killed 8 people, injured 20, and had an estimated wind speed of 200 miles per hour. That tornado, which was an F3 under the old Fujita intensity scale, would be classified as an EF-4 today.

Governor Roy Cooper released a statement on Twitter about the devastating tornado, saying he had spoken with Sheriff Ingram and Chairman Thompson and that the state is sending aid to Brunswick County. “Our prayers are with them all,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s office would later confirm that the governor will be in Brunswick County on Wednesday to tour the tornado damage.

Josh Winslow, the chief executive officer of Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation, said the tornado initially knocked out power to about 37,000 residents. As of 3:30 p.m., power had been restored to 1,067 in the mostly heavily damaged areas.

Brunswick County Schools announced that all district schools will be closed to students and staff on Tuesday due to the extensive damage and power outages associated with the severe weather.

Students will resume instruction on Wednesday and won’t be required to make up the missed day, a district spokesperson said.

“Lincoln Elementary and North Brunswick High School will continue 100% remote learning for all students. The remaining schools resume their current learning plans. In the event that a power outage affects a school, we will reach out to the individual school families for adjustments. But at this time, power is expected to be restored at all our schools,” the spokesperson added.

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