Story Highlights• NEW: Death toll rises to 8 from tornado at mobile home park
• NEW: No time to warn residents, sheriff says
• Tornado touched down about 6:30 a.m. in small N.C. town
• Witness says mobile homes were "obliterated"
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RIEGELWOOD, North Carolina (CNN) -- At least eight people were killed and nearly 20 injured Thursday when a tornado ripped through a mobile home park in this small town west of Wilmington, North Carolina, officials said.
"All of the fatalities were residents in the mobile homes," said Columbus County Emergency Services spokesman Kip Godwin.
At least two of those who died were under 18, said Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten, who did not provide further details. Nineteen people were injured, four of them -- all children -- critically.
An area about half a mile wide and up to a mile long was "demolished," Batten told reporters. Some of the bodies were found about 200 yards beyond the twister's path, he said. (Woman finds neighbors dead)
"We don't have any confirmed missing, but we are keeping our options open," he said. Search and rescue personnel were combing the area. "We want to cover every inch of the property."
The first report of the twister touching down came at 6:44 a.m., he said. The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area at 6:29 a.m. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said it appeared the tornado "was on the ground for some time."
However, Batten said, there was no time to warn residents, and that the county does not have a system of tornado sirens in place. When the weather service warning was received, he said, "We alerted our officers."
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley told reporters earlier that as many as 13,500 homes were without power. Easley activated the state's Emergency Response Team and dispatched emergency crews to the area.
Some of the 25 to 30 mobile homes in the Old Farm Estate were demolished and others were torn off their foundations by the high winds, county officials said. (Watch report from scene of tornado -- 1:46)
Martin Brown, who lives near the mobile home park, said he was watching a movie when he heard a noise that "sounded like a train was coming."
"I looked out that door; a tornado was coming," he said. "I took off running."
He said he held on to his refrigerator until it was sucked out of the house, then crawled under a brick wall that had collapsed onto a table -- all the time thinking "that was it."
Brown's home sustained heavy damage. Asked what his plans are now, he said, "Gotta live on. Gotta get another home."
Hours after the strong storm had passed, some 200 emergency personnel were on the scene. Crews used bulldozer-type equipment and dogs to search under debris for people who had been reported missing, emergency services officials said.
Nine patients were taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, about 20 miles away, said hospital spokeswoman Kendra Gerlach. All nine had "serious trauma damage," she said.
Of those, four patients remained at the hospital. They range in age from 18 to 30 and were in stable condition except for one, who was still being evaluated, she said.
One of the other five, a teenager, was treated and released, and four critically injured patients -- two 2-year-olds, a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old -- were taken to other hospitals, she said.
Bob High, a reporter for the News Reporter newspaper, said four bodies were found in woods adjacent to the neighborhood.
"[The mobile homes] were obliterated. Some exploded, some were moved off their foundations," High said.
One couple was thrown from their home into a neighbor's yard by the strong wind, he said.
"We've been through hurricanes but never had this many people killed at one time," he said. (Watch houses crushed by trees as storm went through Charlotte area -- 2:02)
Twister splits homes
Video footage from the scene showed many homes reduced to rubble, and others with their roofs torn off and walls collapsed.
Kelly O'Hara, a reporter for WECT, said the site looked like a debris field.
"Power lines are down, trees snapped, homes picked up and moved, two-story brick homes split in half," she said.
The homes that crews had already gone through were marked with an "X" in spray paint to show that no one was inside, she added.
Authorities blocked off roads leading to the site of the destruction, according to residents.
A man who answered the phone at a gas station on Highway 87 said the twister "just took a swath right out of that trailer park, right down the middle of it."
The same storm system tore through other Southern states on Wednesday. (Full story)
High winds flattened a skating rink in Montgomery, Alabama, where more than 30 preschoolers were playing. (Watch scene where rescuers found children in rubble -- 1:36)
Two children suffered minor injuries when the building collapsed, according to authorities.
Police said four adults and 31 children were inside FunZone, which housed a skating rink, a daycare and play areas for kids.