Fast-moving storm caused tornado, fires, pounding surf and vast power outages in Eastern North Carolina

Tropical Storm Isaias killed at least two people as it flashed across North Carolina overnight Monday, causing house fires, flash floods, property damage and extensive power outages.


The storm appears to have spawned a tornado in Bertie County — a rural area in the northeast part of the state — that killed two and injured 15 in a mobile home park, The Associated Press reported. Three people were missing, the AP said, citing Chairman Ron Wesson of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.


"Our thoughts are with the family and with the friends who are mourning loved ones today, and with those who were hurt or had property damage," Gov. Roy Cooper said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. "The span of damage from inland Bertie homes to coastal communities shows how these storms can destroy anything in their path, and that is why preparation is so important."


As the skies cleared Tuesday, officials and residents began the process of cleaning up from the storm’s short but powerful visit to the Tar Heel State.


As of Tuesday afternoon, about 16 roads were still closed by the storm, said Eric Boyette, secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation. Crews were clearing debris and making repairs, he added.


Officials also are reviewing the state’s damaged communities to determine if any are eligible for a federal disaster declaration. This would make them eligible for disaster assistance.


Cooper said he spoke with President Donald Trump about the storm "and he has pledged help."


Twenty-four shelters held about 40 people, state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said at the news conference. Because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus, officials recommended that residents who needed to evacuate to seek shelter with family or friends, or obtain hotel rooms if possible.


A swift-water rescue team rescued two people from a flooded home in Bertie County, Sprayberry said.


He added that Isaias generated three possible tornadoes: The one in Bertie County that killed two people; one in Hertford County, which is just north of Bertie County in northeast North Carolina; and one on Bald Head Island in Brunswick County.


Meteorologists will survey the sites, Sprayberry said, to confirm whether the damage was caused by tornadoes.


Powerful punch


Isaias made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane around 11:10 p.m. Monday about 165 miles south of Bertie County near Ocean Isle Beach in Brunswick County. The storm came ashore with sustained winds of 85 mph winds, according to the National Weather Service.


As the fast-moving storm powered inland, the weather service reported a gust in New Hanover County reached 99 mph. Isaias also brought heavy rains to Southeastern North Carolina, with parts of the region recording more than 4 inches of rain.


Along the coast, the hurricane pummeled beaches with a storm surge of up to 5 feet sending sand and heavy surf into nearby streets and boats crashing into docks and each other.


In Southport, the pounding waves piled dozens of boats against docks and several house fires broke out in Ocean Isle Beach, although town officials said the homes appeared to be vacant at the time.


In a Facebook message Tuesday morning, Southport officials said their town is "in the recovery mode" with streets blocked by downed trees and power lines. "The Waterfront area received extensive damage, and the Southport Marina is closed due to damage assessment," the message stated.


The Brunswick County Sheriff's Office also reported localized flooding and downed trees across the county.


The docks for the ferry that runs between Fort Fisher in New Hanover County and Southport in Brunswick County were damaged, Boyette said, and are being assessed.


Lights out


Isaias also brought down power lines across Southeastern North Carolina.


Power outages peaked around 7 a.m. Tuesday with about 375,000 homes and businesses without electricity, Sprayberry said.


These included 85,000 in Wilmington and New Hanover County, nearly 53,000 in Brunswick County, 27,500 in Pender County and roughly 43,000 in Jacksonville and Onslow County.


By 5 p.m. Tuesday, outages were down to 133,000 -- primarily in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.


New Hanover County also saw extensive tree damage from Isaias, although things appeared to be largely back to normal in the densely population county by Tuesday afternoon.


Up the coast in Surf City, in Pender County, a condominium complex caught fire late Monday, displacing 30 people, according to a town release.


As Isaias left the North Carolina coastline, residents nearer the center of the state awoke to power outages and flood warnings. About 2,500 homes and businesses lost power overnight in Fayetteville, the city’s Public Works Commission reported.


Small power outages also were reported in Sampson County and other counties along the state’s Interstate 95 corridor.


But wind and rainfall amounts were much lower inland than officials had first feared when it seemed likely Isaias would make landfall in northern South Carolina and head up I-95.



Reporter Brian Gordon in Asheville contributed to this story.


Paul Woolverton can be reached at pwoolverton@fayobserver.com and 910-261-4710.