CBNNews.com - The damage assessment and the clean up begins Tuesday in Southeastern and Central Virginia after three tornadoes ripped through the region, injuring more than 200. Many residents spent the night in emergency shelters.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declared a state of emergency. This move will free up resources for those areas hit the hardest. The governor was scheduled to visit some of the most damaged areas on Tuesday.
One of the hardest hit areas was the City of Suffolk located about 30 miles from Norfolk and Virginia Beach. William Morgan was in his car when the storm hit.
"A tree branch hit my car," Morgan said. "It picked me up about a foot off the ground and slammed me down into the middle of this median facing the other way.
25 Miles of Destruction
The tornado cut a 25-mile zigzagging path of destruction from Suffolk to Norfolk, touching down repeatedly between 4:30 and 5:00 o'clock Monday afternoon. The twister tore through neighborhoods, shearing some houses off at the foundation, while leaving others located just few feet away virtually untouched.
"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.
The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes struck Suffolk, Brunswick County, about sixty miles west, and Colonial Heights, about 60 miles northwest. Meteorologists said the Suffolk tornado was at least an F3 storm and could be the most strongest storm ever to strike the region. F3 tornados carry wind speeds from 153 to 213 miles per hour.
Several witnesses described the Suffolk twister as "sounding like a freight train."
Meteorologist Bryan Jackson described Suffolk's as a "major tornado." The Brunswick County tornado was estimated at 86 mph to 110 mph, and cut a 300-yard path of destruction, Jackson said. It struck first, at about 1 p.m., said Mike Rusnak, a weather service meteorologist in Wakefield.
The second struck Colonial Heights around 3:40 p.m., he said.
Eighteen people were injured in the Colonial Heights area, which is located south of Richmond.
Chris Carol watched as the twister struck his neighboorhood.
"The rain was sideways," he said. "Then I saw a car flying by. It was the scariest thing I have ever seen. It was unbelieveable that it happened so fast."
Counting Their Blessings
Back in Suffolk, some folks were counting their blessings. Jennifer Haines and her two young daughters rode out the storm inside a small space in the interior of her house. The tornado touched down about three blocks away.
"It sounded like someone shuffling a giant deck of cards or a herd of wild animals coming through. You could feel the house shaking and hear the wind coming in through the cracks in the windows," Haines said. "It was so scary I felt like I was having a heart attack."
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.
Several thousand Dominion Virginia Power customers remain without power.
Sources: The Associated Press, ABC News, The Virginian-Pilot