SUFFOLK, Va. (AP) - Weary residents and business owners, some awakening in emergency shelters, were preparing to see what was left of their homes and livelihoods Tuesday after three tornadoes smashed houses, tossed cars and injured than 200 residents.
One twister in this city outside Norfolk cut a fickle, zigzagging path 25 miles long through neighborhoods, obliterating some homes and spraying splintered wood across lawns while leaving those standing just a few feet away untouched.
Several roads were closed Tuesday morning, and traffic was backed up leading into downtown Suffolk. Cars remained abandoned alongside some roads.
Suffolk city officials said rescue crews had gone through damaged areas and homes overnight and planned to keep searching for victims.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declared a state of emergency, which frees up resources for those areas hit hardest. Kaine will visit some of the most damaged areas on Tuesday.
Russ McCrocklin said he will assess damage to his home Tuesday after spending the night in a shelter. He survived Hurricane Ivan in Florida a few years ago without significant damage to his house, but McCrocklin fears he won't be so lucky this time around.
Keith Godwin lives in the same neighborhood as McCrocklin. He, his wife and two kids took shelter in the bathroom of their home after he looked out the window and saw the funnel cloud.
The Godwins' home is fine except for some debris, as are the rest of those on their side of the street. 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.
Insulation, wiring and twisted metal hung from the front of a mall 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 were 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.
The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes struck Suffolk, Brunswick County, about sixty miles west, and Colonial Heights, about 60 miles northwest. 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.
The tornado believed to have caused damage over a 25-mile path from Suffolk to Norfolk touched down repeatedly between 4:30 and 5 p.m., Rusnak said.
At least 200 were injured in Suffolk and 18 others were injured in Colonial Heights, south of Richmond, said Bob Spieldenner of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Jennifer Haines and her two young girls hid in a cubbyhole in the interior of her house in Suffolk. The tornado hit 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.
Property damage also was reported in Brunswick County, one of several places 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 3,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers remained without service Monday night, mostly in the Northern Neck.