The storms struck in Rutherford and Burke counties late Wednesday afternoon as a cold front moved through the western Carolinas, meteorologist Neil Dixon with the weather service office in Greer, S.C., said.
At least 10 buildings were damaged in a 3-square-mile residential area, but Wright said officials expected to get a better count on the damage during surveys Thursday.
Some people initially were trapped in their homes.
"Everybody's out that we know of," Wright said. "As far as we know, everybody has been accounted for."
A woman in Ellenboro told WCNC-TV that a neighbor's roof ended up in her front yard.
"It felt like the whole house was shaking, and all at once you could hear stuff just breaking apart and tearing up. It was frightening," said Mary Jane Hollifield.
At least five people were hurt when the storm struck a few minutes later in the Icard area in eastern Burke County, Dixon said.
"We know we have 16 homes destroyed and about 50 that have been damaged to various degrees," Burke County Fire Marshal Mark Pitts said.
There were also power outages, with around 100 customers still without electricity Thursday morning, according to Pitts. This is the first time he can remember such a severe storm at this time of year in the western county about an hour's drive north of Charlotte.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter in Icard. The relief agency said at least 15 people had checked into the shelter at a church by 9 p.m.
Burke County schools planned to open two hours later than usual Thursday.
Wind also struck a marina in Caldwell County late Wednesday, damaging at least three boats. It was not clear if a tornado had hit the area. No injuries had been reported.
A weather service survey team planned to tour the area Thursday to confirm that the damage was caused by a tornado, as well as to determine how strong the storm was, Dixon said.
The storm cell that caused the damage had dumped some hail in northwestern South Carolina before moving into North Carolina, he said.