RICHMOND, Va. – NASCAR Nationwide series driver Eric McClure and his family feel fortunate after a tornado brought "probably the scariest few seconds of our lives."
The storm hit Wednesday night in Abdingdon, moments after the McClures returned from church. The tornado did extensive damage to the three-story home in the southwest Virginia community.
"It was terrifying," he said Thursday, speaking by phone from the battered house.
McClure, his wife and three daughters — the oldest is 4 — spent about four hours huddled under a basement staircase. They finally emerged at about 2 a.m. to head for his father's house down the street. He said he heard windows shattering and discovered in daylight that three of the four floors had flooded. At least four people died in surrounding Washington County, authorities said.
"Our family's healthy. We all got out of it without any injuries and so did our immediate family, but we're really heartbroken for the people that didn't," he said. "It's just a house. They make one of those every day. We can always get another house or build one or move or rent. There's so many options there, but you can't replace kids."
He said the tornado felt "like a freight train went through the house."
"I'll be honest with you," he added. "It was probably the scariest few seconds of our lives."
The McClures heard enough on the radio returning from church to know they needed to take precautions. They placed an inflatable mattress on the basement floor. McClure also considered also moving the family cars, but thought better of it. He was quickly grateful.
"We got downstairs and within minutes, it had hit and gone through the house," he said, adding the tornado lasted only 10 to 12 seconds. "It was crazy, I mean, it was really, really intense, and I think the worst part of waiting is you can't see what's coming."
The family remained in the basement under the floor. Flooding started about four hours later.
"It's kind of over before you know it," he said. "It's almost like a car wreck in a race."
As he surveyed the damage, McClure said it was worse than he expected.
"The structure of the house for the most part is OK on the outside. We lost two windows, had some trees come through the house or into the house, lost a bit of our roof," he said.
The inside of the house will likely have to be gutted.
"When it happens, it's like, whoa!," he said. "I can't imagine the people that got it worse than we did. I guess I can, but I can't even begin to process it. It breaks my heart."
McClure is doing what he can at the house. Then he and his family are to head to Richmond, where he plans to race in the Nationwide Series event Friday night.
"Family comes first, but they're encouraging me to go," he said.