A terrified mum has described the moment a deadly tornado ripped off her walls and carried away her pet dog as she jumped on her son to protect him.
The large twister killed three people and injured 10 others as it struck neighbourhoods near Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina with very little warning on Monday night (local time).
The National Weather Service tweeted on Tuesday afternoon the tornado was a ferocious EF3 (a measurement on the Enhanced Fujita Scale where winds are between 218km/h and 266km/h).
Winds were estimated at 257 km/h.
It formed so quickly and late at night while most people were asleep, leaving locals little time to react.
Brittany Memory said she awoke to her Yorkshire Terrier, Penny, sitting straight up in bed and knew something was wrong.
The mum told local publication Live 5 News her power had just gone out and the storm outside fell eerily quiet.
“I actually thought someone was in the house, and I leaned up and turned on the flashlight on my phone,” she said.
“And about that time it sounded like a train – like it was going to run me over.”
Ms Memory said she screamed and grabbed her son, 9, from the bed and threw him into her closet before jumping on top of him in protection.
Seconds later the tornado ripped off her bedroom wall – taking her bed frame and sheets, which Penny was wrapped in, with it.
“When I looked, I didn’t have time. If I had waited a second, me and my son would have been out the back door,” she said.
“I didn’t have time to grab Penny and she went flying with my mattress.”
The family worried about the dog’s safety in the following hours, but Penny eventually found her way back home shivering and traumatised.
“I was terrified, I didn’t think she was alive. But I just kept telling my little boy, ‘She’s an animal, she’ll be okay, God’s got her’,” Ms Memory said, saying she was just grateful they were all okay.
US storms kill 21 people
The deadly tornado formed on the edge of the same weather system that has rocked most of the US with freezing temperatures – killing 21 people and leaving millions without power.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Wednesday the state must learn from the tornado “to see if systems can be improved”.
Local man Jesse Clemmons told the governor it “developed so fast” as the position surveyed the damage.
“I mean, it just was really nothing and just exploded,” Mr Clemmons said.
“Within four minutes, we had a tornado on the ground, which is scary because everyone’s in bed at night-time sleeping.”
Several residents have described how they scrambled to hide in closets and bathrooms as conditions quickly worsened.
“The sky lit up and there was a lot of pop-pop-popping,” resident Sharon Benson said.
“And the loud thunder. And then it sounded like a train, a freight train coming through.”
Tim Long, a 54-year-old electrician, said the back of his home was torn off as he and his wife hid in the bathroom.
“The thunderstorm wakes you up, and the next thing you know, you’re in a tornado,” he said.
Other locals said they received a warning alert on their phone two minutes after the tornado had already passed.
Mark Willis, meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said his team at the federal agency issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 11.33pm on Monday, followed by a tornado warning six minutes later.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.