RIEGELWOOD, N.C. (AP) – Survivors picked through the rubble of their flattened homes Friday after a tornado killed eight people in this riverside town, the area hardest hit by a devastating storm system that later swept through the Northeast.

Gov. Mike Easley toured the devastated area as disaster assessment teams surveyed what was left of a mobile home park and several brick homes that were flattened by the storm.

More than half of the 20 people injured when the tornado struck Riegelwood remained hospitalized Friday, including four children Easley said were in “very, very critical condition.”

The governor declared a state disaster in Columbus County, allowing those affected by the storm to apply for state aid. He said it didn’t appear the damage in North Carolina would reach the $8.9 million threshold for federal aid, but he assured locals he would find state funds to help them if it didn’t.

The deadly storms left a three-day path of destruction from Louisiana to Maine, killing 12 people, knocking out power and flooding streets.

Hundreds of people in New York and dozens in Maryland had to be rescued Thursday from homes and cars caught in flash flooding. Most of Maine was still under a flood watch Friday.

Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten said authorities ended their search for bodies Thursday night and had accounted for everyone. A precautionary dive into a nearby pond on Friday turned up no bodies.

Survivors, meanwhile, began retrieving whatever valuables they could salvage from devastated homes.

Darryl McNair had been sleeping when the tornado picked up his mobile home and tossed it across the street into his neighbor’s yard.

“You could feel the house moving,” McNair, 34, said during a break from picking through rubble Friday.

“My whole life was in that house,” he said, crying. “Everything that was me was in that house. How could you lose everything in so short a time? I struggled to get that stuff and now it’s all out in the road like it was nothing.”

As the storms moved northward with heavy rain, officials in Broome County, N.Y., near the Pennsylvania line, rescued more than 200 residents from cars caught in flooding and from homes as water approached front doors and poured into basements.

One man clung to a tree as his car was swept away by flood water, county spokeswoman Darcy Fauci said.

A mudslide on Interstate 88 east of Binghamton caused a 20-vehicle pileup that left several people injured. One of two eastbound lanes remained closed late Friday as crews worked to remove mud, rock and debris.

Fauci said the flooding caused an estimated $21 million worth of damage to roads, bridges, culverts and municipal buildings in Broome County, and that doesn’t include damage to private homes.

The area had already seen widespread flooding after a four-day deluge in June, when Binghamton resident Rosemary White lost her car and her greenhouse.

“Now, my Subaru that I drive now is probably gone. It was in the garage, and there was water in that, and I have to replace everything again. It’s frustrating,” White said.

Binghamton roads remained washed out or impassable Friday, but the situation was improving because the rain had stopped, said Lt. John Shea of the Binghamton Police Department.

Dozens of schools in Broome and neighboring Chenango and Delaware counties were closed Friday, many because of impassable roads.

Three freight cars derailed in Bowie, Md., and investigators were trying to determine whether the storm caused the wreck, CSX Corp. spokesman Gary Sease said. The empty coal hoppers jumped off tracks shared with Amtrak trains, bringing down some power lines. No one was injured.

The victims in the Riegelwood tornado included two boys, ages 6 and 11. Most of the dead were found within 200 yards of where the tornado touched down, Batten said.

The community on the Cape Fear River, about 20 miles west of Wilmington, has no tornado sirens.

Three tornadoes also touched down in western North Carolina, destroying about a dozen homes and toppling trees in Lincoln, Iredell and Gaston counties, the National Weather Service said Friday. Officials said five people were injured.

In Louisiana, a man died Wednesday when a tornado struck his home. In South Carolina, a utility worker checking power lines Thursday during the storm was electrocuted. Two people died in car crashes in North Carolina as heavy rain pounded the state.


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