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Storm leaves trail of damage across central NC; Thousands still without power Wednesday

This photo from the City of Durham Fire Department shows a fallen tree laying on a power line on Aug. 15, 2023 after severe thunderstorms in Durham and central North Carolina.
City of Durham Fire Department
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This photo from the City of Durham Fire Department shows a fallen tree laying on a power line on Aug. 15, 2023 after severe thunderstorms in Durham and central North Carolina.

Updated Aug. 16 at 5:50 p.m.

Tuesday's severe thunderstorms left a trail of damage across central North Carolina.

As of 5:50 p.m. Wednesday, more than 35,000 Duke Energy customers near Greensboro and Durham were still without power.

Dozens of roads remain closed and some do not have working traffic lights.

Severe weather also led to a 32-vehicle accident on westbound Interstate 40 near the Southpoint Mall around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, forcing a closure between exits 274 and 276. According to WRAL, no one was seriously injured in the crash.

Durham Police say a 78-year-old woman was killed Tuesday when a tree fell on her car.

Durham officials have opened multiple cooling centers, mainly public libraries, to help residents beat the heat as they wait for power to be restored. The Durham County Main Library, the only cooling center with phone and internet access, was temporarily closed Wednesday evening due to a generator outage.

County officials did not expect straight-line winds of up to 80 miles per hour based on Tuesday’s severe weather forecast, said Elizabeth Schroeder, chief of emergency management for the county and city of Durham.

“This one did catch a lot of us by surprise because there was just a low risk, which is pretty common throughout the summer months. We don’t typically see winds like that with, I guess I’ll say, our more regular summer thunderstorms,” Schroeder said.

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, there were also reports of hail on Tuesday across the Triad region and northern Piedmont. And an EF-1 tornado occurred near Beech Mountain in Avery County on Tuesday as well, according to the National Weather Service.

Due to power outages and road closures, Durham County Public Schools were closed Wednesday. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools still had power and remained open.

In Chapel Hill, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. reopened to traffic around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. It had been blocked between Estes Dr. and Homestead Rd. due to downed power lines.

The town of Chapel Hill's weekly food distribution at the Eubanks Park and Ride Lot was canceled due to food supply disruption from the storm.

Chapel Hill Transit is also experiencing delays.

WUNC's Sascha Cordner, Eli Chen and Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.