EDENTON — Peering out into the dark after the deadly tornado had passed, Ricky Brabble couldn’t see the wood-framed farm house in the spot where it had been for about a century.
He turned his pickup truck down the drive and stopped with the headlights focused on a crumpled stack of wood beams, pipes and furniture. The debris was piled up where two of his grandchildren and the mother of one thought they were safe, said Sue Brown, who grew up in the destroyed house and is Brabble’s sister. Just then, at around 8 p.m. Friday, his granddaughter climbed out of the heap.
She was “crawling out hollering, ‘Pawpaw, Pawpaw, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to get them out,’ “ Brown said Monday.
“If it hadn’t have been a pecan tree there that it slammed up against, I don’t know where the front part of the house would have ended up,” said Brown, 62, who lives on another farm about four miles away outside Edenton.
Just then, Bryson Ghose, his cousin and two other men were driving home from work. They stopped and heard Ashley Bain calling from inside the wreckage. She was with her 11-month old son, Gavin Soto, and desperate. The men somehow moved a section of roof about 40-feet long and pulled off the bathroom pipes and sheet rock on top of Bain and the boy in her arms, Ghose told WAVY-TV in Norfolk, Va.
“She couldn’t walk too well and she had blood all over and she was drived by adrenaline and fear. And she was mad her baby was bad,” Ghose said.
The child died over the weekend from injuries he suffered inside the crushed home on the corn and soybean farm, Brown and other family members said. Soto was the only fatality from a series of tornados that hit Beaufort, Chowan, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties on Friday with wind speeds of more than 100 mph.
Soto is scheduled to be buried Wednesday, said Paul Miller, funeral director at Miller Funeral Home & Crematory in Edenton. The boy’s funeral and burial is on the day before what would have been Gavin’s first birthday on Thursday, Brown said.
Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday took the first step in landing federal funds to help defray recovery costs by declaring an emergency in the damaged areas. McCrory warned that more severe weather could be coming to North Carolina through Wednesday from a storm that killed 15 in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
North Carolina recorded 10 tornadoes last year that injured three people and caused more than $6 million in damages, McCrory’s office said. The state also had 460 wind or thunderstorms that caused three deaths, seven injuries and more than $11 million in damage.
Down the road from Gavin’s home, Louise Bonner recounted Monday how she had just gotten to her two-bedroom home when the tornado struck. The 83-year-old widow clung to a wall as the wind knocked down her entire house, but she somehow managed to avoid anything falling on her. Bonner said she’s still not sure exactly how she escaped unscathed.
“Just like I tell everybody, ‘God wasn’t ready for me’ “she said. “You read about this stuff and see it on the television ... I never knew that it would happen to me.”
Across the rural landscape outside Edenton, repair crews worked to fix power lines while downed trees littered the sides of roads. Blue tarps covered the roofs of several homes, while those who lived in the most severely damaged areas were packing up whatever belongings they could find.
Bill Phelps’ two-story home had a large section of roof knocked out, his windows damaged and much of his siding ripped out. A shed was knocked down and a large pine tree fell on a detached garage.
Phelps’ was lucky. His neighbor’s house was completely leveled.
Two doors down, seven people lived in a trailer that was severely damaged by the storm. Repair crews were trying to cover the roof on Monday, while family members filled up a U-Haul with their belongings.
Everyone was safe and that the family was staying at a hotel, trying to figure out what to do next, said 17-year-old Saquann Jordan.
“A lot of people are devastated, but then again they’re glad it wasn’t as bad” as it could’ve been, said Alden Winslow, who was out-of-town when the storm struck and returned Sunday to find only minor roof damage.