This is one of the many voices of those who experienced and continue to experience the tornado of last Wednesday evening, February 24th. Not to say that this was the worst of it on Rappa Point Road, although horrific, just to say that we were here that night.
My husband and I live in Naylors. His association with the place goes back almost 60 years when his relatives bought down here and the first cottages were built. I am a relative newcomer and have lived here for 15 years. As everyone here says, there is nothing remotely like this that has happened to the area. Nothing.
Wednesday was a reasonable day. Having returned from visiting my parents and arriving Tuesday evening, Wednesday was a catch-up day. With the morning TV weatherman letting me know that strong thunderstorms were headed our way, my timing for errands and bit of food shopping changed to early afternoon (rather than evening) and so all was set with my mailings out the door and food for that evening packed in the refrigerator.
I had my first inkling that the rest of the day might be different when one of my husband's cousins from Richmond called asking if we knew about the tornado warnings and watches. Not me. I work on my computer and was doing paperwork and I didn't know that there were conditions developing that might bring us a tornado...lots of cells moving in our direction....obviously including Richmond, but our location as well.
My husband had had minor surgery in Richmond earlier in the day, and around the time of this call--about 3:30, was nowhere to be found in terms of picking up a cellphone call. His cousin wanted to make sure he knew about this. After the call I turned on the TV and was following the movements of the storm cells for about half an hour during which time I caught up with my husband and let him know about the potential dangers. We also discussed his getting home and which way to come. We have what we call the "front way" which entails taking Naylors Beach Road and passing over the little bridge--that is slightly shorter. The "back way" requires a little more travel and much as it is a beautiful country road, it doesn't hold a candle to traveling the winding roads, passing the silos and then having the view open up to include the Rappahannock River and Catpoint Creek. It's funny how you come to take it all for granted....the beauty, the peace. We agreed that the back way was the best bet since the water was almost up to the bottom of all the piers out front on the Rappahannock and that really is a good indicator of how much water is over the little causeway before the bridge.
My husband arrived home around 5:45 and we watched the continuous coverage of the storm until we couldn't watch anymore. Some part of the storm had come so close that there was no more satellite TV. I had already begun collecting candles and matches and flashlights and pulling out a couple of oil lanterns that might be necessary. We knew we would take the dogs into the little bathroom that has a rather small window and is on the back of the house. Since that would be rather close quarters even for just the four of us, the cat was relegated to the small storage room next door so that we could all manage.
The cellphone warning of a watch is certainly something that grabs your attention. With that screaching noise we knew we had to move into the most sheltered area. The watch came perhaps a bit before 7, so with a collection of blankets, pillows, flashlights and most especially the emergency radio we moved into the little bathroom. We listened to the updates and the calls in to the local radio station. The dogs thought we were crazy because we were doing something so uncomfortable (certainly what was wrong with the sofa in the living room?), so I think they were worried about us--they did finally settle down. There were moments when we experienced lots of lightning and there were sheets of rain and there was certainly wind. Unlike many others, we heard nothing particularly different....perhaps it was the radio that covered up that noise, perhaps it was the path and we weren't close enough. I don't know. We didn't think it was nearby.
The information coming in about the Tappahannock disaster was coming in slowly but surely and we were shocked as more and more reports surfaced. Included too was the entire shut down at the Mount Landing bridge (a site we can see directly across the river from our home). In the midst of the many calls into the radio station about the Deshay area located up Airport Road, there was one brief mention of emergency services having pulled a person out of their house at Rappa Point. All of this information was getting our attention, but that report really did. About a half an hour later we were out of the watch area and we moved into the rest of the house. There had been some noise of vehicles going by on the road but we weren't putting two and two together. The electricity had gone out almost immediately when we moved for the best shelter, so we lit candles and lamps and weren't completely in the dark.
The weather was so unusually warm that the house was almost 70 degrees when the electric went out. Given the extreme wind that continued all night we made no efforts to get the generator out. Next morning the indoor temperature had dipped to about 60....very nice.
Shortly after 7:45 pm on Wednesday when the watch expired, I received a couple of phone calls and a picture of what had happened started to emerge. None of this first-hand and I couldn't believe what I was hearing and my husband was even more skeptical. But the rumour of two houses being destroyed, evolved into more houses being destroyed. The stories of persons from two households having come from their homes safely but that the homes were basically gone....that was what we heard. Continued activity was up and down the street with emergency vehicles, and lights out at the bridge entrance-- members of the Fire Department were walking the street. What I learned a bit later that evening is they hadn't realized we were here. After the second watch expired (one that kept us in the little room until about 9), they saw the candlelight and came to the door. They asked if we were okay and I said, yes. They asked if we'd experienced any damage and I told them I didn't think so. One of the firemen accompanied me to the water side of the house and we saw that all was intact and he commented on how lucky we were. I asked a bit about what was down the way and he confirmed a couple of houses had been lost, but we left it at that. It was all beyond shocking.
That evening I was also told that we were on lock down. That no one would be allowed in and no one would be allowed out. That this was now a secure site. This sounded really good to me. It was great that they were taking such good care of us.
Over the years I've walked this area extensively. I've walked and taken photos and have been the earliest of early birds. It all feels so much like home. That evening I knew I was so thankful to be sitting in my home and that much as I was curious there was no way I'd go outside again until the light of day. I did have a need to be out in the early morning--two neighbors who live in Richmond and have second homes down the way asked if I'd check on the homes for them and report back. I said I would.
Hardly sleeping because the wind was so powerful all night, I got up a bit before 6 and kept watch down toward the bridge and to the part of our road that hooks around and runs parallel to Catpoint Creek. It all seemed out of kilter. I thought, hmmmm, those must be some sort of vehicles parked that look so out of place, but I was wrong. As the dawn broke it could be seen that the treeline had been totally ravaged with trees crushed or hanging broken or pushed over. Thrown against the treeline was a huge amount of debris...to some extent small mountains of debris. It was enough to take your breath away. The field in front of the houses down at the other end was an explosion of bits and pieces of things....something you would never expect to see.
Grabbing some warm clothes and a cell phone and a camera, I told my husband I was off to look at the damaged homes and would be back soon. My constant companions, my two dogs, came with me for this world is their back yard and they certainly wouldn't let me out the door alone. Walking down the road I found that I couldn't go very far. There were heaps of debris in the road and you had to step out to the field. There were downed power lines, but I knew we didn't have any power. I avoided them anyway. It was so extreme that I almost lost my resolve to check on the houses I had promised to look at. I angled out further in the field away from the road, and then I could see. I called one individual and said, I think maybe you are partially okay and then I realized that no, the house next to his was somewhat standing and that his was pretty much totally gone. He was shocked and relayed this information to his wife. I didn't stay on the phone long for what else was there to say? I think too that this scene was overwhelming. The second party I called a couple of hours later and he said he knew his garage was in rough shape since he'd seen a photo. I said, don't you know about the house....he said, no and I told him that it was totally destroyed.
(The people from out of town wanted to come and immediately. I can understand that but I told them that this was a secure site and that until the authorities determined otherwise, no one would be allowed in. There were a handful that came early and were able to get in because the place wasn't completely secure, but that changed probably by 10 a.m. And because there were so many who wanted to see what was had happened here, the sheriff's department eventually cut off traffic over the bridge and turned cars around that came up at Strangeway so that the location remained secure.)
After calling the neighbor in Richmond I looked back to the main road where a deputy was parked to oversee the situation and I thought I'd go to talk to him. I just felt so shocked. While walking across the field a truck pulled up and out of the truck came three men. One was the man who survived in a first floor closet....and he had brought his son, and the other was a man who with his wife had gone into the crawl space of their house only to find that eventually it was raining down there. Their roof was mostly gone, and much of the water side of their house was destroyed. That was after the 7:30 or so tornado came and changed the street forever. Hugs were exchanged and few words. One of the objectives was to "look for the cat." Others were simply to see what could be seen. Another truck pulled up about the same time, and that gentleman was a son of one of the owners. We marched back. Comments were made about "there's some flooring from the second floor." This remarked about a piece some 100 feet from where the house had stood. There was a huge trailer that was contorted and almost flattened against the trees. Piles of debris were all along our left. And there was something out in the field that seemed to tell the story almost better than anything else. It is an inboard/outboard powerboat (don't hold me to this exactly since I'm not good with boats) and easily 24 or more feet long (February 29 revision....the boat is 22 feet and weighs a ton. Now ask me if I always used to catch really big fish.) It had flipped off its trailer and sailed into the field....it probably travelled 50 or 75 feet out....maybe more. Powerful wind. Incredibly powerful wind. And no one was hurt here.
We walked in. We saw the houses up close and personal, but really what we saw was unbelievable destruction. One of the men said, be careful of the nails and yes, I could see that among the rubble were pieces of flooring that had been ripped apart and there were nails sticking up. Then I noticed the glass. Then I realized, this is crazy, I'm walking around with two dogs in a war zone acting as if nothing further could happen. I'd done what I need to do. I'd seen all I needed to see. I needed to go home. So I walked up along the water side of the houses where there was far less debris. Yes, some destroyed waterfront boathouse type structures or decks built into the waterfront area, but not the kind of rubble that comes from houses with glass and nails and shattered items in heaps. I had taken photos coming in on the walk. I took photos as I walked out...these of the waterside of a number of houses. But not so many. It almost felt obscene.....to be telling a story that was so painful about people's homes who really hadn't had a moment to absorb the shock. I later put photos on a Facebook page with an explanation and to let people know that we were fine, but those photos were ones that others have taken. It gives this a bit of distance.
Thursday was a day when all the various services did great jobs. The Fire Department, the Sheriff's office with deputies, Northern Neck Electric, the inspectors, and I'm sure the gas company. The key reason for keeping everyone out was to make sure that all safety issues were addressed. They checked for gas leaks. They cut power to the far end of the street and returned ours by about 1 p.m.. We only had our generator up for a couple of hours and then were back with full electric and able to function. Although it seems simple to recount the list of activities....it really wasn't simple and we were just bystanders...there were vehicles in here for many purposes including heavy equipment--they had to clear out the road down to the end. They cleared the road so that Friday the families and friends of those households that had experienced the damage could come in. Clear instructions were given through the sheriff's office and communicated throughout this little community of how this would happen. Hard hats, heavy boots and gloves, 5 people per household and see if the insurance adjuster might be able to come. Really, so much happened on Thursday and it was constant. Phone calls and emails came our way from so many directions. It was an extremely long day and we were mostly in the house and everything went in slow motion.
That evening we were told that the National Guard would be there Friday to assist with the work of looking for personal items and perhaps to begin some clean up. And that was exactly what happened. Friday morning I went to check on the protocol of how we could get in and out of the area and was told that with our driver's licenses we'd be fine. Also, that after I returned late in the day after spending the day at a volunteer job I do once a month, there might well be no further review of those coming and going. It sounded quite reasonable and my return Friday late was just that.
My husband told me the activity Friday was constant. That people were up and down the street all day. I had seen a handful of them walking in with National Guardsmen and deputies before I left. I could feel what the day would be like early that morning and was glad that I wouldn't be there for all of it. Even as I pulled in at around 5:30 pm I saw the brother of one of the owners driving his truck out. Pulled behind on a trailer was the furniture probably from the living room. That house was the one I had thought was somewhat okay. I now realize that it is highly unlikely that it can be saved.
Saturday brought people back to continue working on their homes to salvage things....if there was more they could do. Huge dumpsters now line the streets. Heavy equipment is passing the house. There is much going on. People were stopping on the main road to look and so once again, at least for a while, that section of road was closed off so that no one could come through and there wasn't potential for an accident.
I think in all of this what is most shocking is how arbitrary this all has been. That 1500 feet down the road a huge boat was flipped up and flew into the field. Here, where we really weren't totally prepared, my kayak sat on the deck on the waterside and didn't move an inch.
There are many reports that are filtering through. There are many many people affected. There are many signficant structures that have been destroyed or are in very bad shape. There are many stories of people who have been hospitalized....many who have lost everything. It is a case where we look at each other and ask....did this really happen? Did it really happen here? It did and we are coping and I can't imagine really what my neighbors must be going through since the physical work ultimately won't be as hard as the thinking.
My experience was hugely fortunate. And all the emergency sevices personnel were spectacular in their working with us.
One thing I learned from this is that my friends and family....those who are important in my life are IMPORTANT IN MY LIFE. That there is no reason to take that lightly. I believe we all feel that now....more than ever.