Destruction after the storm – and then, hope

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The first tornado I ever covered was in Kentucky. The damage was heartbreaking. I’ll never forget the people I spoke to there, how they lost everything, but were still just unbelievably thankful to be alive.

I experienced more of that today, while in n Tappahannock, Virginia. What many believed were tornadoes touched down (still not confirmed by NWS) – destroyed homes, businesses and livelihoods. The people of the northern neck of Virginia were in shock, but grateful. Scared, but hopeful. Baffled, but optimistic.

Dozens of people were seriously hurt and homes were destroyed after the storms Wednesday night, but thankfully no one was killed.

Many people reported seeing funnels in Essex County although it’s not confirmed what actually hit the area.

Dozens of homes destroyed in Tappahannock, Deshay Road was one of the hardest hit areas. The only thing that’s left of many homes is the foundation. Neighbors on Deshay Road tell WUSA9 they watched a home get picked up and thrown a few hundred feet, with a family of four inside.

“When we got here we could hear someone yelling,” says Danny Mercer, who came out to DeShay Road to check on his brother. “It was a little girl, the mother and the father all stuck in this rubble.”

Mercer was checking on his brother who lives nearby when he heard the crying. “We moved all the rubble and got them out.” Mercer, along with neighbors, rescued the family, including a 2-year-old girl. All are in the hospital recovering.

Stories like that are everywhere in Tappahannock; stories of near misses, close calls and miracles. Like at St. John’s church, a 140 year old building on DeShay Road.

‘They were supposed to have bible study but the pastor was in the hospital for something else, so they canceled it,” says Larry School.

Church members stopped by on Thursday to see what’s left of their church, and it’s not much. “We can’t have service here but we can still get together. We are survivors. We will get over this,” says member William Dockery.

The unusual February storm was unlike anything they’ve experienced before. The National Weather Service will be out Thursday to determine if it was indeed a tornado that touched down here. About 30 structures were damaged, 15 total losses. Dozens of people were hurt, some serious and some minor, but no one was killed.

“I drive down and see the houses and think, how in the world did they get out? I don’t know,” said Darlene London, who lives nearby.

While some houses were barely touched by the storm, three neighborhoods were hit the hardest: Kino and Poorhouse Road, Mount Landing and Ridge Road and Scott’s Mill and Desha Road.

Nearby, Dennis Campbell was trying to salvage what he could from his family’s home. He knows they’re lucky to be alive. “When I talked to my son in the hospital he said it threw him over here to the other side of the road. He got up and started looking and found my mom in the basement, got her out, then found my brother over here in the field.” His 6-month-old grandson also survived with only a cut on his head.

Even though the Campbells have nowhere to call home now, Dennis says they still have a lot to be thankful for, as he stares at one of the only things still standing outside the house: An American flag.  “Survival. That’s what that flag mean; survival and freedom.”


 Secondary search and rescue crews are still out in Tappahannock Thursday, but officials tell WUSA9 they are confident everyone is accounted for.


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