Tornado Assesment Completed in Petersburg
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Jun 5, 2012, 17:34
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson
PETERSBURG - As Petersburg residents cleared branches and debris from their lawns and work crews cut dangling limbs from the city's battered trees, local officials were joined by Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker and Michael Cline, state coordinator of emergency management, to assess the damage the city incurred when an EF0 tornado touched down on Friday night.
"It was devastating," said Claudette Johnson, whose next door neighbors lost a chunk from the end of their house during the storm. "We had no idea we were going to have a tornado. I was looking at the TV and in ten minutes, bam, it happened."
The lack of warning was just one of the challenges emergency crews faced.
"It's been difficult," Joanne Williams, spokesperson for the City of Petersburg, said of the series of events. "Friday night, on top of the tornado, the city had two house fires, so we're very thankful that Colonial Heights, Chesterfield, Fort Lee, and Prince George assisted."
Williams said that many of the homeowners whose properties were affected by the storm were senior citizens, including at least one couple in their 90s, who managed to maintain surprisingly positive attitudes despite the storm's effects. The community spirit in the neighborhoods impressed the visiting state officials.
"They handled themselves beautifully in this emergency,"Decker said of Petersburg residents and officials as she surveyed the damage on Monday morning. "The neighbors were helping one another, the local emergency manager and the public safety officials were fully engaged with the state police and V-DEM and V-DOT. So I think everything went well, as well as can be expected, this past Friday night."
Decker said she was doing a quick assessment of the nature and extent of the damage.
"Professionals will be coming in to do a more thorough damage assessment as we move forward to make determinations as to the next steps for recovery efforts," she said. "This is the first phase of the recovery period."
Although the storm was only in Petersburg for about 10 minutes, according to fire chief T.C. Hairston, it took a toll.
"As of right now," he said on Monday morning, "We have 169 properties with some type of damage, some very minor to major. And we're at about $1.3 million so far."
He said property management officials were still in the field trying to figure out how many of the damaged properties were covered with insurance.
Williams said that preliminary estimates from Saturday indicated that over 95 percent of the effected residents was covered by homeowners insurance.
Although debris still lined many of the road ways, Williams said a lot of clean up had already occurred by Monday morning.
"It's in pockets, but in those areas, there's a significant amount of debris, heavy debris, large trees that have fallen and then there's some construction debris from some of the houses as a result of the storm," said Steven Hicks, director of public works. "In general, I would say every area where the tornado did touch down, there's a significant amount of damage."
Hicks said that approximately 60 employees, working 10-hour shifts, with nearly 20 trucks and 10 other pieces of large equipment, cleared about 50 tons of debris on Saturday. He said that he was anticipating approximately 450 tons before the end of the removal process.
Decker praised the city for its response to the tornado.
"The city really stepped up and has been actively engaged since Friday night, making sure that everyone is getting what they need and that the right assessments, the proper assessments, are being done," she said.
The names of two of the three neighborhoods most affected by the tornado – East Walnut Hill and Oakhurst – were indicative of one of the main culprits behind the damage incurred.
"We're seeing some of the beautiful history of Petersburg, and it's regal trees, are creating some damage for the property owners," Decker said.
Hicks said that some of the mere limbs that damaged roofs were the size of ten-year-old tree trunks.
The city intends to request assistance from FEMA, a request which must go through state.
When asked if she thought FEMA would assist, Decker was uncertain.
"The state is here to assist. And we've been assisting since the response phase and we're going to work with them to get through what needs to happen...As you all know from past history with FEMA, there are some pretty stringent, minimal requirements. Much like Virginia's history, we don't wait around for federal assistance. Local government has stepped in, the state has stepped into assist, and we're moving forward."
Residents in East Walnut Hill, Oakhurst and Battlefield Park and city officials were grateful that no one was seriously hurt. There were only five minor storm-related injuries reported.
They were also trying to stay positive.
"It's crazy, but guess what, I'm still blessed," said Wilhelmenia Wiley as she stood in her yard on the concrete slab where a shed stood on Friday.
"My shed few away," she explained. "It flew away and fell in the street, maybe 30 feet from my home."
Wiley said she would need to have her roof fixed after a tree limb punched a hole in it and had been defending her things.
"I've been going around cleaning up a lot of things myself, that I could do, and making sure that I got things that were important to me, because we had a lot of spectators running around trying to get things and I would let them know, that's mine and you can't have that."
By Tuesday afternoon, Williams said the city was still identifying more damaged homes and had identified 12 damaged trailers off of County Drive.
She said a final report on the damage was anticipated Wednesday or Thursday.
After visiting Petersburg, state officials proceeded to Hampton, which was struck by an EF1 tornado at 8:13 p.m. on Friday.