An EF-3 tornado with winds up to 140 miles per hour cut a 28-mile path from the Middle Peninsula to the Northern Neck on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
The tornado reached its highest speeds on Kino Road in Essex County, destroying three modular homes. At times, the tornado's path was 400 to 500 yards wide. At least 25 people were injured and at least 30 buildings damaged, according to State Police.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe is visiting the impacted area near Route 360 and Kino Road on Thursday afternoon.
No fatalities have been reported in the area, but some of the injuries are serious. Residents said they "thought the world was ending" when the storms hit. In addition to the at least 30 buildings damaged, 15 were destroyed, according to authorities. A church was also destroyed.
Among those trapped in their homes was an elderly couple who had to be pulled from a closet. Searches are continuing to look through the damage for any other survivors.
One man was stuck in his car when the storm struck, forced to take cover in his car.
“I could feel the windows, glass just hitting me. A bunch of rain coming in from my sunroof ‘cause that broke and then my windshield was hit by debris from the homes around me and the trees being destroyed by the tornado,” described the driver, Orlando Hundley.
He said he protected his head and dove between the seats as the storm raged past him.
“I couldn’t see anything, I didn’t know what was going on, just wind everywhere, feeling it pull my car and turned in every which direction,” Hundley explained he put his foot on the brake to keep the car from moving.
Out of his window, he saw an old high school classmate, clutching his baby on the side of the road. “He was saying ‘my house is gone, my house is gone, I can’t find my family,’” said Hundley.
Frantically, the two men started searching and located his family members. “We found her lying face down and we pulled the rubbish off of her. We both picked her up and brought her to the car just to get her to safety.”
When he finally got home, his neighborhood was destroyed. “It looks like a scene from a movie. Just debris everywhere, houses destroyed, the church I grew up in and went to is no longer there,” said Hundley.
Down the road was a similar scene near Benton Pointe.
“This was the roof of the side porch, there was a massive deck. And now all that remains are pilings on the floor. That’s it,” homeowner Ron Robertson said as he surveyed the damage lying in his yard.
The storm damaged the three homes on his property.
“The tornado lifted the roof up. So where the wall meets the ceiling, there’s a big crack,” explained Robertson.
One home on the property had shattered windows and the porch torn off, as well. The man living inside, John Loving, was actually sitting on the porch when he heard the storm. He didn’t have time to make it inside.
“It picked me up and carried me, ‘cause it took everything right there. There was a porch with an A-frame there, all closed in. it took everything just, a snap of a finger,” described Loving.
The National Weather Service will be working Thursday to confirm how many tornadoes hit the area. So far, they have confirmed at least one, though they have yet to say what magnitude. An initial storm path was between five to six miles long, according to Corey Beazley with the Central Virginia Incident Management Team. A separate EF-1 tornado left three dead in Waverly.
Several roads and neighborhoods in the area remain closed to traffic Thursday due to downed lines, according to the Essex Sheriff's Office.
Power is expected to be restored in the afternoon to the hundreds of people who lost it during the storm.
Crews have shelters open at Essex Intermediate School, 912 Intermediate School Circle, and First Baptist Church, 5340 Tidewater Trail in Loretto.
Essex County schools are closed Thursday.
At this time, officials say additional volunteers are not needed to assist in cleanup.
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