Children carried sofa cushions yesterday down Cub Run Drive in Chantilly. More than a dozen friends of James and Barbara Hepler's appeared with empty boxes to collect their soggy possessions for storage. One neighbor showed up with a framed photograph found three blocks away.
A tornado had blown off the Heplers' roof Friday and scattered across the neighborhood almost all that they owned. When morning came yesterday, their neighbors brought them back what was left of their home and possessions.
"This was really special," said Barbara Hepler, clutching the recovered photo of her and her father. "I don't have too many pictures left of my dad. . . . These are the things that really get to me, when people come up to us and offer acts of kindness."
Friends were there for Robert Halsall on Yoder Street in Manassas, too. They helped him push four wooden columns back into place on his front porch.
"I'm overwhelmed with thanks for the outpouring of assistance," said Halsall, an Arlington County firefighter who fought the blaze at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. "I didn't ask. I'd do the same, but I'm more used to giving, not to getting."
Neighborhoods battered by tornadoes generated Friday by the traces of Hurricane Ivan rang out with the sound of hammers and chain saws yesterday as residents assessed their damage and raced to clean up the properties of neighbors who had been hit even harder.
Those whose houses were so damaged that they could no longer live there were offered food, warm showers and house keys by neighbors they barely knew. The Pleasant Valley neighborhood association collected money to help James Hepler, a Fairfax County police officer, repair his house.
Hepler's home was the only one in the community that was left uninhabitable by a tornado. Hepler and his brother were inside with their children and a neighbor's child when they looked out a window and saw a funnel cloud coming down the street.
One of his neighbors said it seemed to "leap over a house" and land right on top of Hepler's.
It took less than a minute for the winds to peel off most of the second floor and throw it onto a neighbor's yard and deck.
"One minute, we were lying in the basement, and the next thing I knew, there was daylight coming into my basement," Hepler said as he spoke with county emergency workers and National Weather Service officials.
Barbara Hepler said she was grateful that no one was hurt.
"God works in mysterious ways, because He protected my family," she said. "There's definitely a lot of faith in this family today. . . . It's disappointing to lose a lot of things that were precious to us, but my family is safe, and nobody was hurt at all."
As of yesterday, about 40 homes had reported light damage in Pleasant Valley, where at least one tornado touched down, Weather Service officials said. Amazingly, county officials said, no injuries occurred Friday.
"As a community, we have to be grateful that nobody was hurt, nobody was killed," said Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who toured Pleasant Valley with other county officials. "Things can be replaced."
In Manassas, some of the worst damage occurred along Oakenshaw Drive and Yoder Street. Contractor vehicles lined the roads, and residents meandered from house to house comparing experiences and taking photos of the damage. The manager of a local Chick-fil-A restaurant dropped off bags of meals.
About 30 members of the Osbourn High School marching band donned heavy work gloves and lugged snapped-off tree limbs, plastic patio chairs with broken legs and mangled picket fences to the curb. At a pizza party Friday night, the group decided to cancel a Saturday fundraiser and help with the tornado cleanup, said Ted Johnson, the band director. They organized a phone tree to make sure everyone in the band showed up.
"We just changed our objectives," Johnson said.
Stephen Ezzo and his wife, Anne, drank coffee from paper cups as they leaned against their son's Saturn, which the tornado lifted and deposited on the sidewalk, atop a portion of fence from their neighbor's yard. The Ezzos' house was the worst-hit on Yoder Street. The roof of their two-story home is gone, and the rain ruined their furniture. Siding and gutters were stripped away, trees were uprooted, windows were broken. It will take three months to repair.
But amid the misery, the Ezzos discovered friends they never knew they had.
"We've had 50 offers to stay in people's houses," Anne Ezzo said. "People we didn't know say they have extra rooms. Folks down the street gave us their keys. We have great neighbors."