Afternoon turns eventful for those in path of tornado

Patrick Player and Chris Faulk of Lee Electrical Construction remove pine trees on Edgewood Lane for better access to a fallen electrical pole and downed power lines. Photo by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

IRVINGTON—Joe Forrester had just sat down to read his Rappahannock Record Thursday afternoon, April 6, when he heard the pinging of what he thought was hail hitting his windows. Actually, it was the sound of dozens of pine cones striking his house, roof and windows as the wind began to whip in Irvington.

Then there was that distinctive roar, the sound of a train, that everyone who’s ever survived a tornado describes.

Forrester was fortunate. His brick rancher on Edgewood Lane escaped damage, while all around his home limbs were scattered, electric poles leaned, live power lines dragged the ground and giant pine trees laid across roofs.

Across the street from Forrester a few hours later, Benny Bowen and George Cann cut a large pine tree into chunks. It had crushed the front porch of Bowen’s house and fell across his home to poke a hole in his neighbor’s roof.

The buzz of chainsaws and the hectic chatter of workmen could be heard across the tiny waterfront town late into the evening last Thursday as residents dug through the damage and debris left behind by an EF-1 tornado that moved through the area around 12:30 p.m. In an EF-1 tornado, winds can reach up to 90 miles per hour.

Although all of Lancaster County, along with most of eastern Virginia, was under a tornado watch that afternoon, the greatest danger for the Northern Neck, according to weather forecasters, was for a severe thunderstorm and damaging straight line winds.

“I had just got home from the post office, hadn’t even fixed my lunch, and sat down to read the paper, when it hit,” said Forrester.

Just minutes before, the sun had been shining.

According to Terry McGregor, chief of emergency management services for Lancaster County, last Thursday’s storm resulted in some $2.8 million in damages, including $2.4 million to residential properties and another $180,000 to commercial structures.

One home had its roof blown off, another may have twisted on its foundation. A garage was destroyed and several porches demolished by fallen trees. The county continues to do assessments, according to McGregor.

The National Weather Service determined the tornado came on shore near Crab Point and traveled approximately 3.8 miles over Lancaster County through the town of Irvington. It headed northeast toward Kilmarnock before stopping behind Hills Quarter subdivision.

Strong straight-line winds continued from Hills Quarter for approximately 2.5 miles through the town of Kilmarnock, where it damaged Bon Secours-Rappahannock General Hospital and knocked down trees and fencing within town limits.

Some 49 structures were damaged, six with major damage, according to McGregor.

Gary Butler was in the emergency room waiting area when he heard what sounded “like a freight train. The wind was totally twirling the rain around. You could see the rain going in a swirling motion. And then the ceiling started falling in.”

Patients were moved from the emergency room into the hallway for safety, where Butler said his dad said “the wind sounded like a plane landing or a train going by.”

Hospital security worker Mike Kessler was standing at the employee entrance next to the front lobby when “the trees started to bend over and things started flying around. It was happening so fast.

The straight-line winds knocked a large window out in the main waiting room area in the front entrance and another in the rear of the building. Inside ceiling tiles were blown in several areas. The hospital was operating with a back-up generator initially and incoming patients were rerouted to nearby medical facilities until 5 p.m. when it reopened to emergency traffic, said McGregor.

“As soon as it started, they came running into our rooms and told us to get away from the windows,” said Betty Chamblee of Reedville, whose husband was a patient at BSRGH.

Thankfully, no one was injured at the hospital or in Irvington, said McGregor.

“Considering the circumstances, it’s a good day when we can say we had a tornado and no one gets hurt,” he said.

Lancaster County activated its emergency operations center at the Kilmarnock Rescue Squad building on Harris Road, which remained fully operational from 3-9 p.m. Thursday. Staffers coordinated teams in the field and communicated between county and state government. At its peak of operation, some 20 people were working in the center, said McGregor.

“The fire departments did an outstanding job to help guide our damage assessment teams,” he said.

There were no traffic accidents reported due to the storm but there were two storm-related fire calls, one in Merry Point, the other in Weems.