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Toll rises in N.C. tornadoes

The Associated Press. Tornado-damaged homes in northeast Raleigh, N.C., are shown on Tuesday. Residents hit by the most active tornado outbreak recorded in North Carolina's history were clearing away rubble and debris, repairing power lines and facing a recovery that will cost tens of millions of dollars.

The Associated Press. Tornado-damaged homes in northeast Raleigh, N.C., are shown on Tuesday. Residents hit by the most active tornado outbreak recorded in North Carolina's history were clearing away rubble and debris, repairing power lines and facing a recovery that will cost tens of millions of dollars.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The tornado that carved through North Carolina's capital killed four children, shuttered a university for the rest of the spring semester and felled the signature trees in the metropolis known as the "City of Oaks."

It was the most active system of tornadoes on record in the state's history, leading to 23 deaths in one of the nation's fastest-growing cities. The death toll and property damages underscored the massive costs that can be inflicted when a tornado makes a rare venture into areas of dense population.

In all, the storm killed 45 people in six states, but North Carolina was by far the hardest-hit.

More than three days after the storm, crews struggled Tuesday to restore electricity and infrastructure there, with a key commuting interstate briefly shut down to fix downed power lines.

Outside her apartment in downtown Raleigh, 71-year-old Elsie McKeithan wondered whether residents understood that a tornado could strike an urban area, especially with such ferocity. The storm tore the roof from the three-story apartment where she lived, rain pouring in.

''I don't think anybody grasped the concept it was going to come through downtown Raleigh,'' she said.

Five blocks away, Shaw University officials canceled the remainder of the semester because the storm ripped off roofs and shattered windows at campus buildings. Students were to receive grades for the work they had completed.

Up the road, even the headquarters of Progress Energy -- the utility that provides electricity across much of the region -- lost power and had to rely on a backup generator. The electricity was restored a day later.

The tornado inflicted its worst damage just beyond the city center, in a mobile home park with winds over 110 mph. Rosa Gutierrez said the tornado spun her trailer off its foundation, smashed windows and left her family huddled together.

Inside, her husband said prayers. Outside, she heard car alarms, and then a neighbor's cries for help: ''My kids are under there! My kids are under there!''

The neighbor, Christina Alvarez, implored neighbors to help lift the huge tree that had flattened her trailer, where she had taken cover in a closet with her infant daughter, son and two nephews she was babysitting. The three boys lay beneath the tree.

''She was screaming, 'Please take it off, get it off them,' but the tree was too big,'' Gutierrez said. Gutierrez's husband, Manuel, leapt over the fallen tree. He could feel the boys' hands under the branches, but knew it was too late.

Alvarez was bleeding, and in her arms was 6-month-old Yaire Quistian Nino, who was severely injured and later died at a hospital.

In total, the National Weather Service has identified 25 tornadoes that touched down across North Carolina. Meteorologist Ryan Ellis said the event rivaled a March 1984 outbreak that produced 22 tornadoes. The event included more powerful systems and killed twice as many people.