By R.Gregg, The Raleigh Telegram
On Friday March 20, 1998, an F3 tornado with winds over 200 miles per hour, one of the state’s strongest ever in terms of sheer power, cut an easily visible path of tossed trees through the countryside.
On the way to Stoneville, in the nearby town of Mayodan, the tornado picked up a Chevrolet Camaro from the street and dropped into a ballfield, but not before the tornado wrapped some of the ballfield lights around it first.
When it reached the town, the tornado devastated the brick buildings in the downtown area of Stoneville, killing two people and causing $35 million in damage.
For those who looked onto the scene after the tornado hit, the view was horrific. Bricks were everywhere, cars were overturned, buildings were demolished, powerlines were lying on the streets, and lives were destroyed.
Whole store fronts were sheared off, leaving the brick buildings open and naked.
On one street in Stoneville, one could see a house picked up off its foundation and dropped down on top of the family’s car some thirty feet downhill.
Two people died as a result of the twister. Twenty five year old Beth Mitchell was killed when the car she and her mother were sitting in slammed against a wall in downtown Stoneville. A Stoneville native, she had worked at the Stoneville Elementary school just a few blocks away.
Also killed was 80 year old Powell Hickman. At the time of the storm, his wife said he was sucked out from his doorway at his house, when he went to the door during the storm.
Despite the losses, it was a miracle that more people were not killed when the tornado struck. In Stoneville, several lives were probably saved by the warning siren going off just minutes before the tornado came crashing through.
Tales of close calls in the town abound. A woman and her daughter took refuge in a ditch, just before their van was damaged. Workers in an auto repair shop grabbed customers and hit underneath cars in the grease pit, just before the garage came tumbling down around them. In Mayodan, a woman left her trailer to go to a neighbor’s house just before a huge tree came crashing down, flattening her home.
Another man looked across his back yard to see a swath of trees knocked down in the forest and his fishing boat and what was left of his storage shed hundreds of yards away.
Despite the tragedy, the town has rebuilt. After the devastating storm, help came from neighbors and friends from across the state as Governor Jim Hunt toured the disaster zone. Food, money, clothes, and materials poured in as thousands offered help.
Burlington police officers volunteered, WFMY-
The town has recovered, but many scars remain. Some buildings in the historic downtown area were totally destroyed. Others had to be torn down due to structural damage. People have pictures of the devastating event posted in store windows. A clock on a building that stopped when the tornado passed through has never been reset. As folks gather over coffee or lunch, they often recall the harrowing times a decade ago.
The tornado may have destroyed much in the small towns. But the people in the area didn’t let the tornado destroy their sense of community.
As an example of their spirit, the United Methodist Church of Mayodan received a great deal of damage, as its entire sanctuary was ripped off the foundation. The church members, undaunted, held services on the site the following Sunday out in the open on the lawn, with the wreckage of their church behind them. ::
RALEIGH TORNADO: ONE YEAR LATER – This article is part of our coverage of the anniversary of the Raleigh tornado that came through downtown Raleigh in April of 2011.
RELATED ARTICLES: Original tornado stories from the disaster in 2011.
PHOTOS: Downtown Stoneville (below) was devastated by the short but powerful tornado. Photos reprinted with permission from the Town of Stoneville, NC.
PHOTO: A house (below) was picked up by the tornado and dropped on top of the family’s car in Stoneville. Photo By R.Gregg, The Raleigh Telegram.
Article Posted: Sunday, April 22nd, 2012.