If his 4-year-old son, Anthony, had been sleeping in his bedroom Thursday night, he wouldn’t be alive today, Stafford resident Donnie Merrix said.
Yesterday’s heavy winds caused a tree to fall on the roof of Merrix’s house off Mountain View Road in Stafford at about 6:15 a.m.
The tree struck the upstairs bedrooms, “completely crushing” Anthony’s room, Merrix said.
“If he’d been in his room, he’d be dead,” Merrix said.
Thankfully, the boy slept in the basement with his older sister, Frances, 14, that night, because he wanted to watch some TV before going to bed.
Merrix’s step-daughter, Lily, 7, was in her upstairs bedroom when the tree fell, but it missed her, landing next to her bed.
Merrix was in the master bathroom and had to climb over the tree to get out.
The tree fell through two stories and came to rest on the first floor of the family’s home. On Thursday morning, Merrix was waiting for crews to chop it up so he could look for the family’s missing black-and-white tuxedo cat, Cara, and make arrangements for where they could stay for the next few months.
“We’re just sitting here looking at it,” he said.
The area was battered by a powerful nor’easter with winds blowing at 31 mph and gusting to at least 59 mph. Local schools, government departments and businesses were closed.
The region was under a high wind warning until midnight Friday.
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management reported Friday afternoon that more than 410,000 Virginians were without power.
Dominion reported that power was out for almost 20,000 of its customers in Stafford. In Fauquier, almost 11,000 lost power and in Prince William, 13,312 were in the dark.
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative reported outages for 2,105 customers in Caroline, 1,594 in Spotsylvania and 4,699 in Culpeper.
Social media was full of pictures of storm damage—downed trees in roads and yards, on cars and houses.
Several fires also broke out as a result of downed power lines and heavy winds.
In Kenmore Park in the city, the wind blew down a wall that had a backboard for hitting tennis balls off on one side and a basketball hoop on the other.
One man posted a video of the steeple at New City Fellowship church in downtown Fredericksburg lifting from the roof each time the wind gusted.
“The wind just came up and busted it loose from its frame,” church elder Doc Murdoc said Friday afternoon.
He and another church member climbed up on the roof during the wind storm to secure the steeple with straps bolted to the roof.
“It’s not moving as much as it was,” he said.
Murdoc said he’d been up on the roof of New City Fellowship before, but it was much scarier this time.
“When the wind gusts, it’s crazy, you don’t know what direction it’s coming from,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to lay down on the roof until the wind stops blowing.”
Merrix said neighbors have come over to check on him and his family and offer shelter and food. Even strangers passing by in their cars have stopped to see if they need anything.
“Everyone’s reached out to us, which has been amazing,” he said.
In Aquia, Anitra Barnes and her husband, Michael, were napping Friday morning after returning from the hospital—they’d taken their daughter, 19, to the emergency room Thursday night because she’d been suffering from stomach flu.
“I woke up to my husband grabbing me from my side of the bed to his,” Barnes said. “A tree branch was coming through our window.”
The tree took off the front porch of their house in Aquia and crushed the master bedroom. No one was injured.
Barnes said the Red Cross gave them $1,100 and is housing them in a hotel for three days, but after that they’ll have to find somewhere else to stay.
She worries it will be difficult to find accommodation. She and her husband, a Marine Corps veteran, have two children and Barnes also looks after her father, who is wheelchair-bound with a broken hip.
They settled in Stafford after her husband left the Marines and don’t have local family. She also doesn’t want her son, Michael, to miss his IB classes at Brooke Point High School.
Still, Barnes is grateful no one was injured.
“God was watching out for us,” she said.