Twister damages schools, homes

Residents inspect the damage to a structure from a tornado that touched down Sunday along South Main Street in Darlington. Three schools and more than 30 homes were damaged by the storm.

DARLINGTON -- A tornado that passed through northeastern South Carolina caused heavy damage in some spots, but there may not be enough for the area to receive federal disaster relief, Gov. Mark Sanford said Monday.

Three Darlington County schools and 32 homes were significantly damaged by Sunday night's storms. Three people suffered minor injuries. The Red Cross opened one shelter Sunday night, but no one came, said Anthony Hall with Red Cross Disaster Services.

The National Weather Service confirmed the storm was a tornado with damage showing evidence of winds of 130 miles an hour. The path of damage was 75 yards across at its widest point.

The state Emergency Management Division said four of the damaged homes were destroyed or had major damage. A car wash also was destroyed.

At J.L. Cain Elementary School, the roof was ripped off a building, and downed trees and power lines littered the playground. The school is unlikely to open for the rest of the year, said Darlington County schools Superintendent Rainey Knight. Classes will continue today, though, at First Baptist Church of Darlington.

Mayo High School also was damaged, Knight said, but most of that damage was to the gymnasium and students will return to those classrooms today. Brockington Elementary had some light damage, school officials said, but will open today.

"We're very fortunate that those schools were not in session," Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said. He toured the damage in a helicopter.

Just across the street from Cain Elementary sits Ellon Bacote's home of more than 50 years. The 78-year-old retiree said she and her daughter were in the home when the storm passed by, blowing out windows and toppling a chimney onto her roof.

"This is the first time we've actually experienced a tornado, though Hugo messed us up pretty bad," she said, referring to the 1989 hurricane that came ashore at Charleston and headed into North Carolina before it was downgraded to a tropical storm.

"We were sitting in her bedroom talking and I asked if it was raining, but what it was, was limbs," Bacote's daughter Stephanie Bacote said.

They heard a loud boom, which they later determined was a window shattering in Stephanie Bacote's minivan. A second boom was the chimney falling, she said.

Stephanie Bacote said she had lived for a time in California and said Sunday night felt similar to an earthquake, "that same doomed feeling."

Bacote's neighbor Carrie Samuel, 64, said she and her daughter got into a bathtub to ride out the storm. "I was lying down and I heard the wind blowing and I said, 'That's not regular wind.' I said 'That's a tornado,' " Samuel said.

Darlington Mayor Tony Watkins said power had been restored Monday morning to some 1,700 homes and businesses that had their electricity knocked out.