- Last Updated on 08:31 AM 04/20/11
- BY Sonny Riddle
Officials with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Blacksburg have confirmed an EF2 tornado struck parts of Halifax County Saturday afternoon. “The tornado struck four miles northwest of Virgilina (on North Fork Church Road) at around 2:50 p.m. Saturday,” said Dave Wert of the National Weather Service. “We estimated the top wind speed at 120 mph.”
The tornado was rated as EF2, characterized by wind speeds of 111 to 135 mph, according to NWS officials.
“This tornado originally touched down near Concord in Person County as an EF0 at 2:40 p.m.,” Wert said. “It strengthened as an EF2 as it passed through Bethel Hill, crossing the North Carolina-Virginia border around 2:50 p.m.”
Wert said the tornado remained on the ground as an EF2 all the way to Staunton River State Park.
“The entire path length of the tornado was 26 miles, with 16.6 miles in Halifax County,” Wert explained. “The tornado path maximum width was approximately 300 yards, and it lifted prior to leaving Staunton River State Park.”
The tornado destroyed four mobile homes and caused major damage to another mobile home and three stick-built homes, officials said. Four other homes suffered minor damage, several other homes were affected, and a number of sheds and outbuildings were damaged or destroyed along with widespread tree damage within the path of the tornado, they added.
Halifax County Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders said damages to homes total approximately $660,000 not including debris removal or the damage at Staunton River State Park. All but one home were insured, he added.
Total public costs were estimated at $10,000. Saunders also said four persons suffered minor injuries.
A total of 276 Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative customers lost power Saturday, but power was restored to all customers by 8:15 Sunday night, Saunders said.
Officials estimated 103 acres of trees were destroyed within Staunton River State Park, according to Josh Ellington, park manager.
“We don’t have a clue on the dollar amount of damage,” Ellington said Tuesday. “We’re still in the assessment stage.”
Ellington said they are having to go in by foot, and getting in to see all the damage is difficult.
Virgilina Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chad Loftis was attending a training session in the park when the storm hit Saturday.
“It looks like they just finished a clear-cut,” said Loftis.
“We were very fortunate no one was hurt,” Ellington added.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Staunton River State Park.
“We hope to be able to put on the 75th anniversary celebration in some form,” Ellington said. “This place is special to a lot of people, and we want to be able to get them back in the park as soon as possible.”
Delegate James Edmunds (R-60) toured areas of the county Monday that were hit hardest during Saturday’s storm.
“Having gone through and looked at the storm-ravaged area, it’s worse than I expected,” Edmunds said. “My heart goes out to those affected.
“Some people lost everything they had,” he continued. “Even with insurance it will be hard for them to replace everything they lost.”
Edmunds said he drove through the affected areas Monday afternoon surveying the damage caused by the EF-2 tornado that struck Saturday afternoon.
“Until you see the devastation you don’t know the awesome power of the wind,” he said.
Of the five tornadoes that struck localities in the commonwealth Saturday, the one that impacted Halifax County was one of the two strongest, NWS officials said.
Tornadoes touched down in Augusta County (EF1), Dinwiddie County (EF1), Gloucester County (EF2) and Rockbridge County (EF0).
The State Corporation Commission’s Bureau of Insurance is available to provide assistance to anyone who needs help handling claims or dealing with an insurance company, Delegate James Edmunds said.
“They can also answer questions relating to property damage resulting from the tornadoes,” he said. “Their toll free number is 1-877-310-6560.”