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'It was really short, but it felt like an eternity': Survivor describes BC tornado strike

EllenStory.jpg
Hannah Breisinger, WHQR News
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This is the entrance to Ocean Ridge Plantation, Ellen's neighborhood.

Ellen Acconcia and her husband Bill survived the tornado that struck the Brunswick County community of Ocean Ridge Plantation. Some of her neighbors sadly didn’t make it. WHQR spoke with Ellen about how she’s coping.  Ellen and her husband moved into the Ocean Ridge Plantation neighborhood in March 2020. They previously lived in the DC area in northern Virginia. 

 

Rachel Keith: Ellen, can you tell us what you experienced on Monday night?

Ellen Acconcia: Sure. My husband, Bill, and I were in bed watching TV, and then all of a sudden this huge thunderstorm blew up. And it was the worst thunderstorm that I've ever experienced: I mean, lightning that lit up the sky, thunder that shook the house. 

And we kind of looked at each other and thought, well, this is weird in the middle of February, why are we having such a bad storm? And then the power went out, which we kind of expected. 

And a few minutes later, it just got eerily quiet. And then I heard what people have always described as a tornado, where it sounds like there's like a freight train coming either through your house or toward your house. And then I just knew immediately and looked at him and said, this is a tornado.

We had always said, if that happened, we have a one level with just a bonus room above the garage, so the laundry room was really the only inner room that we had. So we had always said we'll go into the laundry room, so that's what we did, and by then we could feel the house shaking. 

While we were in there, we could hear glass breaking, and things were just rocking, I could feel the wind pushing the door down the hallway. And so it was pretty scary. But it was really short, I think it was maybe 15-20 seconds or so, but of course, it felt like an eternity. 

RK: And when it dawned the next day, did you venture out and find out new things about what happened to your neighborhood the previous evening?

EA: Actually, my husband went outside a little while later, and he said that two of the homes at the end of our cul de sac were completely destroyed. 

And I mean, that was just like so hard to believe I just couldn't fathom it. And while he was outside, the new emergency vehicles started arriving in the neighborhood. And he learned that there was one woman trapped in one of the homes but she had hidden in a closet. She was okay, and they knew she was there. They just needed to get to her. 

And then in the other home, the gentleman was outside of the house, but he was not well, he was in bad shape. And they actually, for a time couldn't locate his wife. And those two people did end up passing away on our street. He had gotten taken to the hospital, and he passed away later. And then they found his wife later on. 

And then we talked to neighbors that evening, and they were describing the same kinds of things that we witnessed, pieces of the roof blown off and things like that. I was just amazed seeing the destruction in the daylight; it was just incredible and very humbling to see how close things have come to our home. 

RK: Did you have to be evacuated? Are you and your family safe now?

EA: My husband and I are actually at a hotel in Myrtle Beach right now, because we had a broken water pipe, so they needed to shut the water off. And we still have no power. 

The North Carolina insurance folks are setting up business in the community to speak with the homeowners. So we'll be going up there to talk to them about what the next steps are with getting work done on the house, and hopefully get those processes started. But yeah, we're safe, thank God.

RK: Is there anything that you and your neighbors need now?

EA: The first responders were just tremendous. I mean, they were there all night long. So I think honestly, I think that the community has really come together, especially local businesses. It's really been a whole community effort. It's been really heartening to see that. 

RK: Ellen, thank you for sharing your story with us. And we're thinking of you and all of those who were affected by this tornado. 

EA: Well, thank you all so much.

Resources

  • ​Click here for future updates on the recovery process.
  • If you'd like to receive emergency updates from Brunswick County, click here.
  • Brunswick County has opened a temporary shelter for individuals displaced from the storm. If you need assistance or shelter, call 910-253-5383.
  • To follow the power outages in Brunswick County, click here.
  • 210216FullInterviewWeb.mp3
    Listen to the full interview here.