RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Tornadoes today ripped through a department store, destroyed mobile homes and churches and damaged apartment buildings, killing four people and injuring more than 143 others, authorities said.

Two of the deaths, those of an 8-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, were in Wake County, which includes Raleigh, and the others were in neighboring Nash County, officials said.

Gov. Jim Martin said three storm systems hit the state and at least 15 tornado touchdowns were reported in seven counties. In north Raleigh, tornadoes raked a path through a five-mile area. Four three-story apartment buildings and a department store were flattened.

''I can remember hearing a big gust of wind like a hurricane and then I could hear the wood tearing and I thought, 'Oh God, this is it, I'm gone.' I just buried myself under the bed,'' said Betty Bell of Raleigh, who was in bed when a tornado hit.

Tony DeVita, 34, of the Calibre Oaks complex said he grabbed a pillow and got behind his bedroom door until the tornado passed.

''The roof was totally gone, the patio doors were gone and every window was smashed. The carpet was rolled up like someone was going to replace it,'' he said, adding he had to dig his way out from the corner of the room.

Raleigh City Manager Dempsey Benton Jr. said 62 people were taken to hospitals in Wake County, including three who required surgery. At least nine houses were destroyed and 44 damaged, he said.

Benton said city officials received no warning from the National Weather Service about the possibility of tornadoes. ''We did not have a tornado watch nor warning before the storm struck,'' he said.

He and Raleigh Mayor Avery Upchurch flew over the affected area today and Upchurch said, ''It looked like a big bouncing ball had gone through there.''

Roger Friedenson of the Insurance News Service said it appeared that damages could be as serious as tornadoes that struck southeastern North Carolina in 1984 and caused about $65 million in damage. City officials said 500 people were homeless.

Martin, at a 6 a.m. briefing, said six people had died. But later, officials said one of those deaths was not storm-related; and at midafternoon, officials reduced the death toll again, to four, saying there was confusion earlier in the day when hospital officials were polled.

Officials at the state Division of Emergency Management said 143 people were taken to hospitals. Uncounted others were treated for minor injuries.

The tornadoes first struck Raleigh around 1:15 a.m., Benton said. City buses transported more than 300 people to two shelters, he said.

Later in the morning, the storms moved into eastern Virginia, pushing over trees and bringing heavy wind and rain, the weather service said. A tornado warning there expired at 6 a.m.

The National Weather Service said a tornado touched down near Windsor, Va., cutting power to much of the area. There were reports of damage to mobile homes, but no injuries were reported.

Power outages were widespread in North Carolina, authorities said.

''We've had churches that have been demolished, some trailers and some homes,'' said Franklin County Sheriff Arthur E. Johnson, who added that Red Cross personnel were on their way.

In northern Raleigh, a K mart store was flattened, and three people were trapped inside, said police Sgt. J.D. Everett. All three were rescued, but one man suffered a broken leg, said Assistant Fire Chief Robert Whittington.

Bricks, cinder blocks and twisted steel girders lay in a heap with racks of clothing and other merchandise.

Police dispatched officers to nearby neighborhoods to look for people in need of help and to prevent looting.

''It appears that we've got extensive damage all over the area,'' Everett said. ''We do have some extensive injuries, but I can't tell you how many, or who, or where.''

In addition to the flattened apartment buildings, numerous others suffered structural damages, said Deirdre Bolling, manager of the Cooper's Pond complex. No one in those buildings was seriously hurt, and residents were given lodging at hotels, she said.

The first rescue workers on the scene there pulled people from third-floor windows. Several residents wandered around dazed, with visible cuts. One man wore only a bath towel.