NEWCASTLE — Bryan Stout slipped into the storm cellar with mere seconds to spare.
He had raced home from work Tuesday, grabbed the three family dogs and dropped into the tiny cellar with his wife, April, 35, and daughter, Tiffany, 17, just before a tornado barreled over their tan aluminum-sided house.
“It was like standing under a helicopter. I could hear a whoop-whoop-whoop like the sound of a helicopter rotor,” said Stout, 34.
About four minutes later, the family peeked out the cellar door. The wind had uprooted a huge tree and slammed it against the house, virtually trapping the family inside. Stout had to shove his way through the limbs and then reached down to pull out his wife and daughter.
Much of the house they moved into a few weeks ago remained upright, but they lost most of the contents.
Wednesday, about a dozen family members, neighbors and friends helped the family pile up appliances and rake through bits and pieces of material things. Stout considers the family lucky: everyone is safe.
“It's utter devastation,” said Val Tower, taking a break from helping the Stouts clean up their belongings in the Carr addition. “From the elementary school, the tornado took a beeline diagonally through the addition. It hopscotched through, leaving one house alone and waylaying the next.”
Carr, one of the city's first incorporated areas, lost 22 homes in the tornado, said Ian Crittenden, deputy emergency manager.
Just across from the elementary school, Karen Bates, 50, glanced at the door to what used to be her pantry. It was the only undisturbed feature remaining in the home she'd owned since 1986. Pieces of insulation, splintered wood and twisted bits of metal made up the rest of her home. A bulldozer pushed a large crumpled piece of metal — what used to be her swimming pool — out of the street.
“This is bad. It is. But there are a lot of things that are worse. These are just material things. People have lost their loved ones,” she said.
Bates said her father pushed tornado awareness and built a cellar the day after he survived an Oklahoma City tornado that hit his car lot in the 1970s. Tuesday she stayed with her mother nearby in a half-underground house, with her daughter, Brandi, 26, and 20-month-old granddaughter, Rayleigh.
Bates found the two things that mattered most when she returned home to the pile of debris: her dog, Angel, and a few family photographs.
Crittenden said preliminary estimates show about 40 houses were destroyed, 50 had major damage and about 100 more had minor damage. Five Newcastle residents suffered minor injuries and were treated by firefighters and paramedics.
The Carr neighborhood is just north of the civic center, which includes the police station, elementary school and city storm shelter. As the tornado approached, people parked along U.S. 62 and ran to the storm shelter to join between 1,200 and 1,500 people from surrounding neighborhoods crowded into the storm shelter, along with 30 pets, Crittenden said.
“We had the doors open until pretty much the last second. We had to make sure the people inside would be safe. At the same time, how do you close the door on someone trying to run inside? We got everyone in,” he said.
“It was pretty intense.”