Area in 'a Daze' After Tornadoes

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News Channel 8's Matt Brock reports on the extensive storm damage in Stafford County, Va. Video by News Channel 8/WJLA-TV 7

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Stafford Hit Hardest by Storm
By Michael Laris and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tornadoes damaged more than 140 homes in Stafford County and toppled trees and battered houses in Fort Washington early yesterday.

Many residents in the England Run North community woke up yesterday in the homes of neighbors who had taken them in after a tornado cut a four-mile swath through Stafford. The National Weather Service said wind speeds reached 120 mph.

"We're all in a daze. We're all . . . the word is numb. It doesn't sink in that you're not going back to your house. You keep seeing it again, over and over and over," said Stafford resident Sydney McDonald, who stood yesterday with her sleeping 3-year-old son in her arms. He had stayed asleep while she and her husband rushed their children down to their basement late Thursday night and bunched them together for safety. A piece of debris shot through the wall above one child's bed, "just like a knife," she said.

"The entire outside wall is gone. It came right off. It's just open," said her husband, Jim McDonald.

Luis Rosa, a Weather Service meteorologist in Sterling, attributed the storms to an intense low-pressure system and the unpredictability of spring weather. The storm system dumped up to four inches of rain in parts of Prince George's County and 3 1/2 inches in Stafford near the tornado site, he said.

In Southern Maryland, front yards and sections of roads in western Charles County looked like shallow ponds.

In Fort Washington, a tornado with estimated 90-mph gusts ripped a 15-foot-long aluminum shed from the ground, crinkling it like tin foil and shooting it more than 50 yards away into Rhoda Carter's back yard. Pieces of it landed even farther away, along with one of Carter's trees, in Kathy Jones's garage.

Orlando and Toni Lewis heard the wind, felt a vibration and ran downstairs with their 6-year-old daughter, Tauryn, and 3-year-old son, Orlando.

"I said, 'Oh my God. I know that sound,' " Toni Lewis, 29, said. She and her husband used to live in Oklahoma, where, they said, they had survived a deadly series of tornadoes in 1999. "It wasn't as bad as those, but it was the same sound," she said.

Carl Erickson, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, said the storm was so violent because it drew a lot of moisture in from the Atlantic Ocean and wind directions varied at different altitudes, causing the system to begin twisting. He also said it didn't appear to be any worse than violent spring storms in years past.

"We're transitioning. Summer is trying to move up, and winter is trying to hang on. This can happen," he said.

However, it's markedly different than last May, when the Washington area received barely any rain, Rosa said. With this week's storm, many parts of the region have recorded more than the average rainfall for the entire month, Rosa said.


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