Last Updated: May 30th, 2014 - 11:08:34


Terror in tornado
By James Peacemaker, Jr. Managing Editor
May 27, 2014, 14:59

JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Melissa Gressman stands in her front yard Friday, the day after a tornado swept over her home in Prince George. The remains of a three-car garage sits along the road.
PRINCE GEORGE — When Melissa Gressman looked out of her den window and saw her three-car garage being lifted into the air, she was already heading to the safest place in the house she could think of.

“We were already moving, but we moved faster,” Melissa said.

Melissa said she jumped into the bathtub with Buddy, their 1-year-old golden lab, as she had once been advised by a friend who was a firefighter.

Moments earlier, she saw the funnel cloud out over the field barrelling toward her home.

“I was trying to shut my back door because it blew open and hail like golf ball size was coming in and I was moving my washing machine in front of the door to keep it shut. Hardly my body weight could keep it and I saw the funnel cloud just come down out in the field and moving toward us. And I was like ‘Come on, Buddy. … Let’s run,’” she said.

They jumped into the bathtub as the tornado roared around them Thursday afternoon around 5:45 p.m.

“Because of all the rain and the hail, all I could hear was just the beating of everything. Just a lot of noise,” Melissa said. “I wish I had a basement.”

She said she tried to calm the dog down, who was upset by the turmoil.

“I thought ‘Oh my God, me the dog in the tub was going to be the only thing left,’” she said.

Everything was shaking as the twister passed over. “I was afraid the roof was going to come off,” Melissa said.

But as quickly as the tornado appeared, it had vanished.

“It only took a few minutes and then we saw the light coming through the bathroom,” she said.

She looked out of the back window to see the garage missing.

The contents in the garage remained partially undisturbed as it was lifted.

“The motorcycle was still standing and the garage was gone,” Melissa said.

When she walked out of her front door, the police and fire department were coming up Kurnas Lane already, Melissa said.

“And all of my neighbors were heading toward my yard coming to check on me. … They just hugged me and supported me and it was wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” she said.

She said she has lived in the home for 15 years and the neighbors are close.

“We’ve all lived here a long time, so they were really, really nice,” she said.

Despite the metal garage being thrown more than 100 feet to the opposite side of the property, the home itself sustained little damage. A two-foot hole was torn into the roof by flying debris.

The Gressmans’ next-door neighbor, Ron DuHart, a soldier who is stationed at Fort Lee, came over and attached a blue tarp to the roof to keep the rain out.

“He put that patch on my roof while it was still storming and lighting was coming down. ...

I was like ‘Please don’t do it with the lightning’ and he was like ‘I got this,’” Melissa said.

Melissa said she couldn’t reach her husband, Jay, by phone right away. He hurried home from work after hearing what happened, but didn’t get home until 8 that evening.

DuHart, an operations research analyst who has been in the Army for 25 years, said he was happy to help.

He went to look outside after the storm blew a trampoline into his bay window.

DuHart said he was amazed at how much hail there was on the ground. He said he couldn’t distinguish the sound of the tornado from the pounding rain and ice.

JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT A tree was snapped off near where the three-story garage landed in front of the home.
“The ground was just white,” he said.

He looked over at the Gressmans’ home and saw the garage, which was once behind the house, now crumpled up alongside the road.

DuHart said he went out when there was the lull in the storm.

“Sure enough, I went to get the tarp and it poured down rain again. It was raining in her house. I was soaking wet but I went and got the tarp and it was lightninging as well but I still put it on her roof so it wouldn’t get any worse,” he said.

“She was at home by herself and couldn’t get a hold of her husband so I thought the least I could do was try to put a tarp up to help out,” DuHart said.

He also helped pull the garage’s power line out of their swimming pool after Melissa turned off the power at the breaker switch.

The National Weather Service originally thought the storm didn’t produce a tornado, but they changed their assessment after looking at the damage.

A massive crumpled pile of sheet metal was along the side of the street in front of the house Friday afternoon. It was located more than 100 feet away from where it once was a garage on the opposite side of the house.

“It was a lot bigger than that originally,” Jay said.

The pile of metal would have either had to fly over the house or around the house to get to the current location. Several trees were snapped off about 10 feet up. The storm also destroyed a shed and most of a privacy fence and damaged their pool.

The Weather Service said the tornado had winds of about 70 mph. It was 25 yards wide and touched down for only about 75 yards, just long enough to hit the Gressmans’ home.

The twister hit her neighbor’s apple tree and went through the treeline and just dissipated as quickly as it appeared.

“So it just came down to ruin my life,” Melissa said with a laugh.

The storm also spawned a tornado near Waverly that struck a Napa Auto Parts Store and snapped off trees. It also caused minor damage to some homes, a church and a cemetery. A funnel cloud could also be spotted in the Chester area.

Many neighbors and friends have offered to help the Gressmans clean up after the storm. They were waiting on the insurance company Friday afternoon.

Melissa was thankful to have the support, but was still visibly shaken Friday, the day after the tornado hit. And apparently so was Buddy.

“He’s a little on edge,” Jay said, as the dog eagerly tried to dart around despite his leash.

“He’s been all hyped up since yesterday,” Melissa said.

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