Cooper seeking improved warning system after deadly tornado

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Owner Richard Dobkin, right, photographs the damage at Ocean Ridge Storage Solutions in Brunswick County, N.C. near the town of Sunset Beach, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. Officials say a ferocious tornado struck shortly before midnight Monday just inland from the barrier island of Ocean Isle Beach.(AP Photo/Chris Seward)

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that the state must learn from the surprise tornado that struck Ocean Isle Beach with little or no warning, leaving three people dead and 10 injured.

The governor surveyed the brunt of the damage, at Ocean Ridge Plantation, a neighborhood where residents recounted near-death experiences from the powerful EF3 tornado that approached swiftly.

Showing the Democratic governor obliterated roofs, downed trees and severely damaged homes, Brunswick County’s emergency services director Ed Conrow echoed the frustrations of residents who spoke of having little to no time to prepare.

“It developed so fast,” Conrow told the governor. “I mean, it just was really nothing and just exploded. Within four minutes, we had a tornado on the ground, which is scary because everyone’s in bed at nighttime sleeping.”

He told reporters during Cooper's visit: “It was just a freak storm that developed so fast we had no chance to respond.”

Mark Willis, meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service in Wilmington, told The Associated Press that his team at the federal agency issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 11:33 p.m. Monday, followed by a tornado warning six minutes later.

Several residents described for AP how they scrambled to hide in closets and bathrooms as conditions quickly worsened. Some said they received a warning alert on their phone two minutes after the tornado had already passed.

“The storm developed quickly and our storm survey team is still evaluating the exact details in relation to when and where the tornado ultimately touched down, how strong it was, how far it traveled, and other details,” Willis said in a statement.