TAPPAHANNOCK — John Loving thought an unusually loud tractor–trailer was rumbling over the bridge at Mount Landing Creek.
Then the rumble became such a roar that he could no longer hear his brother’s voice on the telephone.
“The last thing I heard, it was like an engine whirring, right up against your ear,” he said.
The roar now haunts many residents of Essex County and the town of Tappahannock.
Loving turned to leave the porch connected to the two-story white house sitting atop the hill on Tuckaway Lane. But he was too late.
The next thing he remembers is waking up in the ravine amid a tangle of wood and siding and Coors Light bottles. The storm had ripped the porch from the house.
Loving crawled back up the ravine, into his house and huddled in the basement.
When his friends arrived about an hour later, he curled into a ball on the living room couch and thanked God he was alive. He said he suffered only some pain in his right leg.
Others in the Rappahannock River town and surrounding Essex County, about 60 miles southeast of Fredericksburg, did not fare as well. State police reported that 25 people were injured—at least eight seriously—when a tornado touched down Wednesday night.
While the twister was spawned by a storm system blamed for four deaths in Virginia, authorities reported no fatalities in Essex or Tappahannock, its county seat.
The National Weather Service said the tornado that ripped through Essex was an EF3 and packed winds of up to 140 mph as it carved a path of destruction 200 yards wide and 28 miles long from the Middle Peninsula through the Northern Neck. The weather service also confirmed tornadoes in Waverly and Appomattox, the two other storm-ravaged locations in the state.
Officials said at least 50 homes were seriously damaged, and 10 of them were destroyed. St. John’s Church was also heavily damaged.
As the storm approached, Robin Packett and her husband Hughie huddled in the shower in the basement of their home on Ridge Road off Mount Landing Road. He was near tears with worry about their beagles, who were outside in the storm.
Robin Packett made a frantic call to daughter Jessica Kurdziel.
“She was so afraid, she was screaming. At first I thought she was joking, and then I realized that something was really wrong,” Kurdziel said.
The pressure in Packett’s ears was unbearable.
“Then it was like a huge sucking, and all the pressure was sucked out. And then the rain came on our heads,” she said, lifting her hands to her face. The house lifted from its foundation, then slammed back down. Doors blew off their hinges and windows shattered.
Then the couple’s beloved beagles raced through the door frame and rushed to their owners. Robin Packett discovered a straggler sometime later, hiding under the couple’s bed.
She wasn’t hurt, but there is a hole where part of her roof used to be and she fears the house may be condemned.
“You know, I can just go home tonight and go to bed. But my mother doesn’t have a home. It’s just gone. There’s nothing left,” an emotional Kurdziel said.
Mount Landing was one of the hardest hit in Tappahannock. Residents say three houses on the quarter-mile road were destroyed.
One white house completely vanished. All that was left Thursday was a sprinkling of white across a barren landscape of dirt and pine needles.
Nearby, an entire hillside of trees bowed to the ground, their roots exposed and their branches covered with puffballs of pink and white insulation.
Aluminum siding from the metal shed that used to stand behind Mount Landing resident Betty Davis’ house screeched in the wind from its new perch on a nearby tree. Pillows bobbed in the Packetts’ swimming pool.
A two-story home used to sit just two houses down from the Packetts’ home on the left side of the road. It is now a heap of rubble on the right side of Ridge Road.
A card that reads, “This is the hand you used to hold when I was three years old. Happy Grandparent’s Day, Love, Davis” was pinned at the edge of the pile. A stuffed dog sat on top of wood and what looked like part of a metal appliance.
Tyler Lowery picked among the pile. His two friends live here, he said. Then he corrected himself.
“They lived here,” he said. The couple is now in the hospital, he added.
Without a basement, they hunkered down in a hallway closet. They were thrown into the yard and beneath the roots of a tree, neighbors and friends said. The wife is recovering from surgery to treat a broken leg, among other injuries, Lowery said.
Lowery, the Packetts and other neighbors kept looking for a bright spot Thursday. Lowery saw a glimmer in some pictures he found in the rubble of a friend’s home.
There were images he hadn’t seen in years, including one of the couple’s daughter who died about 15 years ago in an auto accident not far from the home.
The group later found a chainsaw belonging to fellow Ridge Road resident Rick Hudock. According to a neighbor, Hudock’s house was still standing, but was heavily damaged.
When he saw the chainsaw, Hudock bowed his head. He assured the others that he wasn’t crying. It’s just the cold, he explained.
The group hugged.