Tornado was unforgettable

Published 9:33 pm Saturday, April 28, 2018

Like most folks who were living or working in Suffolk at the time, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day a tornado ripped through Suffolk.

It was a fairly normal Monday here at the paper. We were working on Tuesday’s edition as we normally do when the weather started to go downhill. Soon, our scanner, which picked up local and state police law enforcement as well as Suffolk Fire & Rescue traffic, Public Works employees and more, went off with constant traffic. We could hear police officers and other city employees reporting the funnel cloud. Reports of damage started to come across the scanner. I hopped in my car and started trying to make my way toward the scene.

As I sat in multiple traffic backups and got detoured multiple times, I was essentially on my own. Having worked at the paper for only about a year and a half at that point, I didn’t yet have an extensive knowledge of Suffolk’s back roads. I had no smartphone as everyone does these days (it seems so strange to talk about a mere decade ago as if it were the Dark Ages of technology). I couldn’t even make a call with my old flip phone, as the circuits were overloaded.

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I finally arrived at the intersection of Godwin Boulevard and Kings Fork Road and realized I could go no farther. The intersection was blocked, and there was nothing but blue lights as far as the eye could see toward the hospital.

I carefully pulled my dearly departed Grand Prix, still basically brand new then, onto the shoulder as several others had done. I gathered the essentials and began the trek through the rain toward the area where the tornado struck.

It’s impossible to overstate the eeriness of the devastation of a tornado. Homes had been splintered off of their foundations, leaving only a slab in their wake. Other homes had missing walls, making them appear more like a dollhouse or shoebox diorama than an actual house. Debris and personal items were scattered who knows where, much of it never to be seen again. Less than a block away, other homes were virtually untouched.

In one driveway in Burnett’s Mill, I saw a Volkswagen emblem off of the grill of a car. I looked around and saw no Volkswagen. I saw part of the Freedom Plaza sign at an intersection more than 600 feet from where it came.

I took photos and did interviews until after the sun set. I walked all the way back to my car, made my way back to the office and wrote up a story or two. The rest of the week was filled with more interviews that I’ve mostly forgotten, but like most Suffolk folks, I’ll definitely never forget the day of the tornado.