Vicious weekend storm leaves behind Wake County family in mourning, massive cleanup
RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A wicked line of strong thunderstorms ripped across central North Carolina Saturday afternoon, spawning tornado warnings, pulling down trees, and knocking out power to thousands.
While the storms moved through quickly, they were powerful. Wind gusts up to 86 miles per hour were measured at RDU airport, the highest ever reported.
A woman was killed in Saturday's storms, according to Raleigh police. Cheryl Harrison, 50 and two of her family members were walking along a greenway near Dunn Road when they were struck by a falling tree limb. Harrison was stuck by a large portion of the tree. She was taken to WakeMed, where she later died.
Her husband, Lee, and 20-year-old son were struck by smaller branches and suffered minor injuries.
ABC11 spoke to Lee who is grieving after his wife's sudden death over the weekend. He is limping, right now, wearing a leg brace after the accident. Understandably shaken, he did not want to talk on camera.
Harrison's family did tell ABC11 about her love affair with nature. She was an embroidery artist, who stitched scenes from the outdoors in fiber and thread. Harrison's art captured nature at its bests; she was killed by nature at its worst.
It is still unclear if Harrison had heard the severe weather warnings Saturday or if the family had time to take cover.
"It's just evidence that stuff like that can happen anywhere - in your car, out on the greenway," said neighbor Kelly Boone.
"Oh it's horrible, out with your family for a walk. But it's nature and when you come out you just have to be aware," added neighbor Cynthia Fryer.
Police say another man was struck by a falling limb on Six Forks Road. He was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
On Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh, a huge oak tree toppled across all four lanes, blocking traffic.
In Willow Spring, a family sent ABC11 a photo of a steel outbuilding tossed up against the side of a home and crushed.
In the Brier Creek area, a condominium complex under construction was damaged by the winds on Bruckhaus Street - right behind Brier Creek Elementary. Four units that had just been framed were pushed over.
Builders from Toll Brothers started picking up the pieces Monday after Saturday's severe storms caused the condominiums to collapse. Crews had just finished framing, when the storms rolled through, bringing all their hard work crashing to the ground.
However, why did this happen and how could it? The answer is straight line, hurricane force winds.
Straight line winds are the dangerous cousins to tornadoes, causing plenty of damage and devastation in their paths, but the destruction is different from a tornado. They push debris in the same direction the wind is blowing, leaving a straight path of destruction. Tornadoes send debris flying in different directions due to the violent rotating column of air.
Surveyors will often find twisted trees and branches and buildings will be damaged on multiple sides. Both can be life threatening and incredibly devastating.
What took Mother Nature seconds to destroy is taking workers hours to clean up. Toll Brothers told ABC11 they would rebuild a new unit as soon as the debris is cleared.
On Raleigh's Capital Boulevard, a tree came down in a parking lot on cars.
"It's quite a reminder that...life is fragile," said Pastor David Gira.
Gira was just one of many more people caught in Saturday's storms. He was driving on N.C. Highway 98 when heavy rain started to fall and he heard trees snap. He was amazed that not one tree landed on his car or the one stopped next to him.
"There were trees everywhere, all around us, but we were both okay," said Pastor Gira.
He said it took two hours for rescue crews to clear the road so he could go home.
However, Gira says in light of all the tragedy caused by the storm, he was overwhelmed by the willingness of strangers and friends alike who come out to help him.
According to Duke Energy Progress, over 46,000 customers were without power at the height of the storm. Most of the outages reported were in Chatham, Wake, and Lee Counties.
In the Brighton Forest neighborhood between Apex and Fuquay-Varina, pine trees fell on several homes. Every home hit by a tree has a massive hole in the roof, which allowed in the rain, causing water damage to ceilings and walls. Still, families are grateful it wasn't worse.
"Could have been a lot worse. If it was two feet to the right, it would have hit the master bedroom. Could have been a lot worse cause she was sleeping in there," said homeowner Tom Ayers.
Alamance, Chatham, and Orange counties were briefly under the first tornado warning. The National Weather Service said a trained weather spotter spotted a funnel cloud in Chatham County at U.S. Highway 15/501 and the Haw River Bridge just after 1:30 p.m. The warnings shifted west, through the afternoon.
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