Powerful tornados rip through Gloucester; community rallies

- Posted on Apr 20, 2011 - 05:13 PM

Photo: Two Gloucester school buses and an HVAC unit from Page Middle School were tossed around like toys as the tornado touched down on Saturday evening. The tornados caused massive damage from Coke in lower Gloucester County to Deltaville in Middlesex County before moving out to the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Charlie Koenig.

Two Gloucester school buses and an HVAC unit from Page Middle School were tossed around like toys as the tornado touched down on Saturday evening. The tornados caused massive damage from Coke in lower Gloucester County to Deltaville in Middlesex County before moving out to the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Charlie Koenig.

The Gloucester community has rallied around its neighbors stricken by several powerful tornados that touched down in Gloucester County Saturday night, leaving a straight-line path of destruction from the communities of Coke and Clopton, devastating Page Middle School and touching down again at Ware Neck and the northern end of Mathews, before eventually heading off to Deltaville and then out to the Chesapeake Bay.

In Gloucester, the storm caused just under $8 million worth of damage, according to Emily Ashley, Gloucester’s emergency services coordinator. That figure does not even include the destruction at Page, which is yet to be determined. The EF-3 tornado has left three dead, 11 homes destroyed and over 200 others damaged.

The tornados hit around 7 p.m. after a day of stormy winds and thickening clouds, the advance guard of a strong frontal system moving up from the South.

While their most obvious damage was the destruction of the back wing of Page Middle School, they also wiped a number of homes completely from their foundations, damaged dozens of others, and was blamed for three deaths. Two of the deaths were attributed directly to injuries from the tornados. The third victim was said to have suffered a medical emergency at the time of the storm and could not be reached by emergency responders.

School officials have scrambled to come up with a plan allowing the Page students to complete this year at Peasley Middle School (see related story). The planning also must take into consideration the loss of or damage to about a dozen school buses that were parked behind Page which were swept up by the tornado.

The freakish nature of the storms became apparent as miles of roadside appeared undisturbed, every lawn ornament and dogwood blossom in place in front yards. Turning a bend in the road, one would suddenly come upon rows of homes with pine trees through the roofs, alleys of pines snapped off and pushed from the roadsides … and on some home sites, everything gone down to the foundations. 

The Gazette-Journal this week presents as much information as could be obtained regarding the tornados themselves, the victims, the damage, the disrupted school system, relief and recovery efforts, and the official response. Most people interviewed said they have never seen destruction on this scale; they have described the classic "freight train" sound of a tornado’s approach; and they have pitched in to help their neighbors, or been the grateful recipients of the helping hands extended from every direction.