A wind such as Vernon Arthur had never heard woke him shortly after 2 a.m. yesterday. He went to the living room window of his house trailer and saw a lightning-bright tornado. Just as he reached his wife to tell her to get their four children dressed and into the car, the tornado hit.
It splintered his 65-foot trailer, throwing the front door a mile and a half. Arthur landed near a creek 40 feet from where his bedroom had been, his two daughters landed together in a nearby three, his 2-year-old son landed on the opposite side of the creek and his wife, Thelma, was thrown in the water.
Arthur's 3-year-old son, John, was thrown into the creek beneath debris from the trailer. The boy's body was found yesterday morning in the water about 200 feet from where the trailer once stood.
Up the hill from Boswell's Trailer Park in Stafford County, Va., about 35 miles south of Washington, the tornado struck again.
At the Midway Island Housing Development, a wartime frame housing project for enlisted men and their families, the tornado demolished 10 duplexes, left four more damaged beyond repair and smashed windows in seven others. Five people were injured, none seriously enough to require hospitalization.
Arthur sat yesterday afternoon in his sister's trailer, up a muddy road from where his trailer was obliterated by the storm. Beneath his left eye was a puffy, purple bruise. His feet, frostbitten in the night's frantic search for his children, were wrapped in white gauze. His arms, legs and torso were cut and bruised.
The 25-year-old father told a tale of destruction. After his too-late attempt to warn his wife of danger, Arthur's face hit the ceiling as the wind picked up his trailer and folded it, He saw his wife get hit in the head by a flying dresser.
"The wind ripped off my bathrobe, my underwear, even my watch. I landed in the mud beside the creek naked and I started to run," Arthur said. A neighbor who lives near Arthur and who was sitting in the trailer yesterday afternoon said the father ran about aimlessly for a while.
Arthur said he soon spotted, through sheets of rain, his two daughters in the tree and he saw his wife emerged from the flooded creek.
Mrs. Arthur cannot swim. "I told myself," she said, "to hold my breath until the water went away."
She crawled out of the creek with a badly sprained ankle, multiple bruises and a deep gash in her forehead. Her clothes, also, had been ripped away by the storm.
Arthur said he ran to his sister's trailer, got some clothes and went to search for his sons. Police and rescue squad people from Stafford, about seven miles to the north, arrived during Arthur's search.
At around 3:15 a.m., Doug Boswell, who lives nearby and who had joined the search, discovered 2-year-old Travis Arthur. Boswell said the boy, who suffered cuts and a broken leg, was beneath debris from the trailer, crying.
An ambulance took Arthur, his wife and his son to the hospital soon after the boy was found and they were all treated and released. Neighbors, police, firemen and rescue workers and marines from the Quantico Marine Base continued to search for the missing Arthur boy.
Beneath shattered trees littered with pale blue sheets and insulation from the mutilated trailer, a marine found a body in the creek at about 10:30 a.m.
The Stafford County Sherriff's Department, the National Weather Service and the marines all said yesterday they could not decide whether the tornado hit the trailer court or the marine housing first.
In the housing development, built in 1942 and considered "substandard" by the marines, 63 people lost their homes and had to be relocated, a marine spokesman said. The white and green houses in the development are rented to enlisted men for about $110 a month. A marine spokesman said marines live in the old housing project because of the cheap rent.
Sgt. Kenneth Hall, who says his house was lifted into the air for 7 seconds by the twister, said he saw the storm "bounce" down the hill toward the trailer court. Hall's house fell back onto its foundation.
Across the street. Lance Cpl. Thomas Joly, his wife and his 7-year-old daughter were not so lucky. Their house was demolished. Joly said he heard the storm hit, grabbed his wife and landed in his bed about 60 feet away. His daughter also, went airborne on her mattress and landed safely near her parents.
In the 42-trailer park, the tornado flipped over the home next to the one owned by the Arthurs. The trailer, owned by Charles Pullen, fell over onto a fire hydrant and a large tree fell on the trailer. Boswell, who helped right the trailer, said it, too, would have been destroyed by the wind if the tree had not fallen on it.
Boswell, who has lived for 53 years in Stafford County, said yesterday, "to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a wind (here) like this."