SUFFOLK, Va. – Three tornadoes ripped through Virginia on Monday, with one hop-scotching across the southeastern part of the state and leaving behind a 25-mile trail of smashed homes, tossed cars and more than 200 injured residents.
The twister in this city outside Norfolk cut a fickle, zig-zagging path through neighborhoods, obliterating some homes and spraying splintered wood across lawns while leaving those standing just a few feet away untouched.
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Buses took residents to safety, steering clear of downed power lines, tree limbs and a confetti of debris.
Insulation, wiring and twisted metal hung from the front of a mall that was stripped bare of its facing. At another store, the tin roof was rolled up like a sardine can. Some of the cars and SUVs in the parking lot laid on top of others.
"It's just a bunch of broken power poles, telephone lines and sad faces," said Richard Allbright, who works for a tree removal service in Driver and had been out for hours trying to clear the roads.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declared a state of emergency for the areas of southeastern Virginia struck by the twisters.
The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes struck Suffolk, Colonial Heights and Brunswick County. Meteorologist Bryan Jackson described Suffolk's as a "major tornado."
Jackson said the Brunswick County tornado was estimated at 86 mph to 110 mph, and cut a 300-yard path of destruction.
The first tornado touched down around 1 p.m. in Brunswick County, said Mike Rusnak, a weather service meteorologist in Wakefield. The second struck Colonial Heights around 3:40 p.m., he said.
The third touched down multiple times, between 4:30 to 5 p.m., and is believed to have caused damage over a 25-mile path from Suffolk to Norfolk, Rusnak said.
At least 200 were injured in Suffolk and 18 others were injured in Colonial Heights, south of Richmond, said Bob Spieldenner from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
In Colonial Heights, the storm overturned cars and damaged buildings in the Southpark Mall area.
Suffolk city spokeswoman Dana Woodson said the area around Sentara Obici Hospital and in the community of Driver, located within the city, were hardest hit. The hospital was damaged but still able to treat patients.
Several of Gregory A. Parker's businesses and his pre-Civil War-era home in Driver were damaged.
The porch was blown off his Arthur's General Store. At another store he owns, the tin roof was rolled up like a sardine can. The facade of his home collapsed and the windows were blown out. Inside, furniture was tossed about.
"I hate to say it sounded like a train, but that's the truth," Parker said.
His wife, Ellise, rode out the storm in the first-floor bathroom of another antique store. The building lost its second story.
Parker is spending the night with his sister, who lives nearby.
"I don't even think a leaf blew off at her house. That's how tornadoes are," he said.
At King's Fork High School, about 65 people took shelter for the night. Many of them watched coverage of the storms on television as volunteers set up cots in the gymnasium.
Keith Godwin lives in one of the hardest hit neighborhood. He, his wife and two kids took shelter in the bathroom of their home after he saw the funnel cloud from his window.
Their home is fine except for some debris. Those across the street were badly damaged, including two houses completely wiped off their foundations and one that was tossed on top of another home.
"All that's left is a concrete slab," Godwin said.
Chris Jones, a former Suffolk mayor, said area residents stopped by the high school throughout the night to donate bottled water, toothpaste, deodorant and other needed items.
"It could have been much worse," Jones said. "It's been amazing the people who have come out to help tonight."
Sentara hospital spokesman Dale Gauding said about 70 injured people were being treated there. Three were admitted and were in fair condition.
"We have lots of cuts and bruises" and arm and leg injuries, he said. The hospital's windows were cracked, apparently by debris from a damaged shopping center across the street.
Southside Regional Medical Center treated one storm victim with minor injuries and was poised to receive more, hospital spokeswoman Terry Tysinger said.
Property damage also was reported in Brunswick County, one of several localities where the weather service had issued a tornado warning. Sgt. Michelle Cotten of the Virginia State Police said a twister destroyed two homes. Trees and power lines were down, and some flooding was reported.
About 5,500 Dominion Virginia Power customers remained without service Monday night, mostly in the Northern Neck.
Laura Southard, a state emergency management spokeswoman, said the damage assessment will be done Tuesday.