Suffolk picks up the pieces

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 29, 2008

As darkness fell Monday night, Suffolk officials continued to take stock of the damages left by the tornado that mauled the city.

The numbers – as far as officials knew at 9 p.m. Monday – were:

* Despite widespread destruction, there were no fatalities in Suffolk, said city and police officials. There was a death during the storm, but it was not a result of, or connected to, the tornado.

* About 120 people with injuries were transported to medical facilities in the region, said Dana Woodson, spokeswoman for the city. Of those, six people were critically injured and six were seriously injured.

* About 13 properties were flattened in the vicinity of Sentara Obici Hospital, and Freedom Plaza, a new shopping center was severely damaged.

* Eight structures in Driver were damaged; of those, three were completely destroyed, Woodson said.

* Between four to five units on Murphy’s Mill Road were destroyed.

* Some 3,200 customers were without power in the city, the majority of those customers were in the area of Routes 58 and 460, according to Chuck Penn, spokesman with Dominion Power. Chuckatuck alone had 2,547 customers without power, in outages caused by the winds and torrential rains.

* About 70 patients went to the emergency department of their own accord, said Dale Gauding, public relations spokesman for Sentara Healthcare. Only three of them were admitted. Most common injuries were cuts, bruises and broken bones, he said. There was one head injury, one chest injury, and one head and chest injury.

* About 37 people were taking up refuge at the city’s emergency shelter at King’s Fork High School, Woodson said.

That number was likely to climb Monday night, because officials issued mandatory evacuations of two neighborhoods that were hardest hit by the storms. Suffolk Police took buses through Burnett’s Mill and Hillpoint Farms to transport people to the emergency shelter, said Lt. Debbie George, spokeswoman with the Suffolk Police Department. Those neighborhoods suffered gas leaks and homes that were damaged or leveled.

The emergency shelter, located at King’s Fork High School on King’s Fork Road between Routes 10 and 460, is open for those in need. People should bring bedding and whatever medications they might need, Woodson said. Pets should be secured at home; they are not permitted in the shelter. For more information, call the citizen hotline at 514-7587.

The city also activated its Emergency Operations Center on White Marsh Road, where safety officials can communicate and coordinate their efforts.

As of 9 p.m., activity at Obici was winding down, Gauding said. Despite the widespread damage in a radius around the hospital, it survived unscathed. A few windows were cracked by flying debris, but not penetrated. Cars in the parking lot suffered superficial damage. But the hospital never ceased operations, he said, despite the fact that people at the hospital were able to see the cloud coming, alert others inside and retreat to safer areas, he said.

&uot;In terms of physical damage, we were lucky,&uot; Gauding said. It came terrifyingly close, but appears not to have hit the building.&uot;

Monday evening, Gov. Timothy Kaine declared a state of emergency in Virginia, directing state agencies to take all necessary actions to aid in the response to widespread damage from the severe weather. Suffolk and Colonial Heights were two areas that were severely affected. Kaine is expected to survey the damages in Suffolk Tuesday afternoon.

Suffolk Public Schools and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy closed Tuesday, both in anticipation of needing to make repairs to buildings and assist any students and families that were affected by the storms, officials said.

Bethanne Bradshaw, public information officer for SPS, said Driver Elementary School suffered minor damage – amazingly, the twister that flattened much of the rest of the village stopped just short of the school’s yard. Elephant’s Fork Elementary, closer to the Route 10 area, had downed trees, and windows in the front of the building were blown out, she said. Children in both schools’ after-school program, as well as others at a few other schools on field trips and other activities, took refuge inside the buildings. Those whose families had taken shelter at King’s Fork High School were transported there later in the evening to be reunited with their parents.

Lt. Debbie George said law enforcement and safety officials would work through the night on recovery efforts and that damage assessment would begin Tuesday.

School closings include:

Suffolk Public Schools

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

Paul D. Camp Community College

Road closings include:

King’s Highway from Sleepy Hole Road to Route 337

Main Street closed from McDonald’s going north past Wal-Mart

Route 10/Godwin Boulevard

Burnett’s Mill Way