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Hundreds injured as 3 tornadoes rock Virginia

Residents of some of the hardest hit districts were forced to evacuate their homes.

world Updated: Apr 29, 2008 08:58 IST

Three tornadoes ripped through Virginia, with one hop-scotching across the southeastern part of the state and leaving behind a 25-mile (40-kilometer) trail of gutted homes, tossed cars and more than 200 injured residents.

neighborhoods in this town outside Norfolk were forced to evacuate their homes on Monday, with buses taking them to nearby shelters. Police closed roads, steering people away from streets with downed power lines. Downed trees and power lines covered the streets in a section of the city. A vending machine was tilted on its side, leaning up against a pile of rubble that had been the general store in a small shopping district.

"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 (138 kph) to 110 mph (177 kph), and cut a 300-yard (275-meter) path of destruction.

The first tornado touched down around 1 p.m. (1700 GMT) Monday in Brunswick County, said Mike Rusnak, a weather service meteorologist in Wakefield. The second struck Colonial Heights around 3:40 p.m. (1940 GMT), he said.

The third touched down multiple times, between 4:30 to 5 p.m. (2030 to 2100 GMT), and is believed to have caused damage over a 25-mile (40-kilometer) 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.

Insulation, wiring and twisted metal hung from the front of a strip mall in Suffolk that was stripped bare of its facing. Cars and sport utility vehicles in the parking lot outside lay strewn about, some lying on top of others.

Several of Gregory A Parker's businesses and his pre-Civil War-era home in Driver were damaged in the tornado. 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 an antique store. The building lost its second story. Sentara hospital spokesman Dale Gauding said about 60 injured people were being treated there, and he expected most to be released.

"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 6,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers remained without service Monday night.

Laura Southard, a state emergency management spokeswoman, said the damage assessment will be done on Tuesday.