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Posted April 29, 2011 | comments Leave a comment

Region avoids any casualties, but gets hit hard nonetheless

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

An apparent tornado struck southern Shenandoah County early Thursday, leading to damaged homes, downed power lines and flooded roads, but no fatalities, according to the county Department of Fire and Rescue.

Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency amid the destruction across Virginia, with five storm-related deaths reported as of Thursday afternoon. Several tornadoes were suspected.

Officials at the National Weather Service in Sterling did not confirm Shenandoah County's storm as a tornado as of Thursday evening, although the county fire department stated a meteorologist at the scene made that determination, and that the area impacted was 23 miles long and up to four miles wide.

Whatever it was, it was damaging, most noticeably a short distance from the intersection of Kelly Road and Orkney Grade, where a farmer lost several poultry houses, sheds and vehicles. County personnel established a command post Thursday morning at Mt. Hermon United Methodist Church, at 3821 Orkney Grade. At the nearby Shenandoah Ski and Hunt Estates, about 16 houses were damaged by fallen trees, officials said. The subdivision remained closed to the public Thursday. No homes there, or elsewhere, were marked as being uninhabitable, however.

Kelly Road also was closed to the public. Seven poultry houses were damaged, and four destroyed, all on Kelly Road, the release states.

There were two injuries in the county, sending one person to the hospital, a press release states. No additional details were available.

Dominion Power reported 3,143 customers were still without power in its Shenandoah Valley/Western Piedmont region as of 6:43 p.m. Thursday, a majority of those being in Shenandoah County. Power was expected to be restored Thursday night. As of 6:15 p.m., there were 581 Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative customers without power in Shenandoah and Frederick counties.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management conducted an aerial surveillance of the Orkney damage, the American Red Cross was on the scene and a meteorologist from the weather service made the location one of several he had on his list for the day. The Sheriff's Office dispatched deputies with chain saws throughout the county, among other agencies assisting in cleanup efforts.

Public schools in Shenandoah County were closed well before daylight Thursday, and County Administrator Doug Walker declared a local emergency before 5 a.m. By 2 p.m., all public roads in the county were declared passable by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

In Frederick County, a barn in Middletown had severe damage and some houses in Shawneeland sustained minor damage from straight-line winds, but there was nothing to indicate a tornado struck anywhere, Fire Chief Dennis Linaburg said.

"We dodged a bullet," he said. "Our counterparts to the south were not as fortunate."
Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie said there was no significant damage there, despite two tornado warnings.

A state trooper was treated and released at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital after his police cruiser was struck by a tree on southbound Interstate 81 at 2:40 a.m., state police Sgt. F.L. Tyler said. The trooper, D.W. Burkholder, was at milemarker 281.8 -- between the Woodstock and Edinburg interchanges -- when the tree hit, causing about $12,000 in damage.

At the command post around noon, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Strong said every piece of destruction, and how it is scattered, is surveyed and measured with radar data before determining whether a tornado hit. Eyewitness accounts are used, too, but none existed for the suspected tornado on Orkney Grade.

Late in the afternoon, Kevin Witt, another meteorologist in Sterling, said Strong was still visiting other spots, and it may be days before a conclusion can be made because of the many reports of tornadoes. County Fire Chief Gary Yew said Strong had indicated it was a tornado.

Don Daigle, 75, was holding his morning coffee as he watched the command post at Mt. Hermon take shape. A Basye-area resident since 1978, he said Thursday's storm was the worst he could recall, and the persistent lightning stuck out to him most.
"I didn't even know my power was off," Daigle said.

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