WENTWORTH — A friend called Joe Baez on Friday night to warn him a tornado was coming. The retired middle school principal said he had just reached the bottom of the steps to his basement when he heard what sounded like a freight train.
A few minutes later, it was all over.
On Saturday, Baez talked about the storm with the buzz of workers sawing through downed trees in the background at his home on Roberson Lane.
“I was watching the Braves game and a friend called me and said, ‘Hey you better take cover.’ I said what for? She said there’s a tornado heading your way. So I said, well, I’ll walk downstairs to my basement,” Baez said.
He said there was a lot of wind and noise.
“And then I heard trees snapping ... and then they started hitting the house.”
“It didn’t take but about two or three minutes for the whole thing to be over. ... I couldn’t even get out my doors.” Rockingham County officials declared a state of emergency Saturday after a storm swept through the night before, leaving behind downed trees, blocked roads and damaged homes.
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There were no reports of injuries or deaths.
The National Weather Service confirmed Saturday that an EF-1 tornado with winds gusts up to 110 mph struck Rockingham County on Friday night.
The tornado was about 300 yards wide with a 7.9 mile path, the weather service said.
Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates said the early warnings provided by the National Weather Service and Rockingham County Emergency Services were crucial in protecting the lives of the people impacted by Friday’s storm.
“I think that is why we haven’t seen any injuries from this event because people had prior warning and prior notice to take shelter,” Cates said. “I think that is why lives were protected from a potential deadly situation.”
A survey team inspected storm damage near Wentworth on Saturday. The team concluded the twister touched down in a wooded area just southwest of Sunset View Road and headed northeast. It produced “discontinuous damage” before lifting near the intersection of Crutchfield Road and U.S. 29 Business.
The majority of direct damage was to trees snapped or uprooted, the weather service said. However, several homes had significant damage after trees fell on them. The tornado caused minor damage to a barn by tearing off roofing material.
On Wentworth Street in Reidsville, two large oak trees fell on Karen Wilson’s home. She said the trees crushed her granddaughter’s bedroom.
“She would have been killed if she would have been in there,” Wilson said. “I went back in there and the house was creaking so I ran out. I’m not going back in there. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Doug Allred, spokesman for Cone Health, said in a text that no damage was reported at Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville.
“Once we got the warning, staff enacted the standard steps we take to ensure patient safety should a tornado hit. That included moving patients into hallways,” Allred said, adding that visitors were also moved to areas away from glass windows. “Thankfully the all clear came and everything returned to normal.”
Rockingham County was placed under a tornado warning about 7:20 p.m. Friday. Rockingham County Emergency Communications said it began to receive reports about 20 minutes later of damaged structures as a result of what was believed to be a tornado.
The Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter on Friday night there were damaged homes and blocked roads in the Wentworth area at Cedar Lane and Setliff, County Home, Sunset View and Parkland roads.
The American Red Cross and Rockingham County Health and Human Services are available to help anyone with home damage who needs help with shelter, the county said in a news release. Anyone needing assistance should contact Rockingham County Emergency Communications at 336-634-3300.
Staff photographer Woody Marshall and staff writers Annette Ayres and James Sands contributed to this report.