Durham tornado victim avoids death by seconds
May. 16, 2014 @ 04:07 PM

Frank Boll says he dodged death by 10 seconds Thursday when a tornado swept through his Hope Valley neighborhood and jammed a tree through his roof.

Boll, 69, had been watching television on his living room couch when he heard what sounded like a freight train.

“I got up and ran downstairs to the garage, and then: Kaboom!” he said. “The tree hit exactly where I was sitting. I would have been dead.”

Friday morning, Boll surveyed the damage to his home at 2420 Alpine Road, describing it as “very bad.”

He was one of dozens of residents in that part of southwestern Durham to suffer damage from what the National Weather Service confirmed was an EF-1 tornado.

A few houses down the street from Boll’s, 97-year-old Eloise Martin and her daughter, Katherine Cole, had sat down for dinner about 6:15 p.m. Thursday when the tornado moved through. A pine tree crashed into the roof, but no one was hurt.

“We had just said grace and were getting ready to pass the supper bowls around,” Cole said. “Then we heard something that sounded like a train. We glanced out the windows and saw trees blowing, and decided to take shelter in the hallway.”

That’s when the tree fell on the house and trash barrels flew across the yard.

“It was quite frightening, but at the same time, mom is very stoic,” Cole said. “And we’re just grateful that we’re alive and well.”

Motorist Gary Deen said he was buffeted by the tornado as it passed through Martin Luther King Boulevard and N.C. 751.

“Our car was slightly moved,” he said in an email. “Debris of differing leaves, flowers and pine straw blew up onto the back of our car. Everything around us was moving in a particular direction (very weird).”

Meanwhile, power failures were reported in Hope Valley and others parts of the city. Duke Energy said 600 Durham customers remained without electricity Friday afternoon, but they expected power to be restored later in the day.

Stoplights were out Friday along MLK Boulevard, backing up traffic.

No tornado-related injuries were reported, but Durham County sheriff’s deputies answered 12 calls of flooded roads, including Continental Drive, Bill Poole Road, Snowhill Road, Old Oxford Road and Holder Road.

Deputies responded to 21 traffic crashes during the storm, according to Paul Sherwin, public information officer for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. None caused serious injury or death, he said.

A sharp improvement in weather is expected this weekend. Forecasters say Saturday will be sunny, with a high in the low 70s. Sunday will be partly cloudy, with a 20 percent chance of rain.