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Woman finds neighbors dead after tornado

Riegelwood, North Carolina (AP) -- The only warning Cissy Kennedy had that a tornado was about to destroy her neighborhood came as she was getting ready for work.

She heard the wind pick up.

"There was no warning. There was no time," said Kennedy, a 48-year-old radiologist's assistant. "It just came out from nowhere."

Outside her front door, blown open by Thursday morning's twister, Kennedy found devastation. The bodies of two of her neighbors rest in the wreckage of three homes across from her own. In the woods out back, she found three more bodies.

In all, eight of her neighbors were killed -- two under the age of 18.

The tornado flipped cars, shredded trees and ripped mobile homes to pieces in this little riverside community. Dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed, but others nearby were nearly untouched -- Kennedy's house lost nothing but some siding and shingles.

About 100 people were left homeless, and dozens planned to sleep at a shelter established at a nearby elementary school.

"All I have now is the work clothes I have on and my kids," said Tomeka Jenkins, 29, whose mobile home was leveled by the storm.

The disaster raised the two-day death toll from a devastating line of thunderstorms that swept across the South to 12.

The tornado that struck Riegelwood -- situated on the Cape Fear River about 20 miles west of Wilmington -- hit shortly after 6:30 a.m.

As many as 40 mobile homes were damaged before the tornado crossed a highway and leveled three brick homes. Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten said several of the dead were found within 200 yards of where the tornado touched down.

"It almost looked like the mobile homes had exploded," said Alton Edwards, a member of a volunteer fire-and-rescue team. "There were cars on top of one another. It's just about as bad as it gets."

Household debris, including carpet and a laundry basket, was scattered along a road. The storm dumped a minivan in a ditch, and an open refrigerator that still had food inside was filled with rainwater.

Batten said Thursday night that authorities had concluded their search of the area where the deaths occurred and had accounted for everyone.

The storm knocked out power to 45,000 customers in North Carolina, but the electricity was back on in most places by mid-afternoon.

\Elsewhere in North Carolina, two people died in car crashes as heavy rain pounded the state, dropping as much as 5 inches in some areas.
In Louisiana, a man died Wednesday when a tornado struck his home. In South Carolina, a utility worker checking power lines Thursday during the storm was electrocuted.

Off the coast, a Coast Guard helicopter lowered a pump to a fishing boat that was taking on water in 15-foot seas about 50 miles from Charleston, South Carolina. One crewman was aboard the 34-foot boat, which the Coast Guard escorted back to land.

The storm also caused minor flooding in the Washington area, where rescuers grabbed several people stranded in their vehicles, and slowed commuters as far north as Newark, New Jersey.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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