While National Weather Service officials surveyed the damage to a Fauquier County hamlet yesterday, trying to determine whether a tornado was responsible, Pete Johnson saw the answer in a pile of rubble just 20 feet from his house.
"That's the carport, or what used to be the carport," he said, pointing to the mangled remains in a field. Felled trees, drywall panels and children's toys were scattered nearby.
Neighbors described a frightening few minutes Tuesday just before 9 p.m. as the storm bore down on the town of Ada.
"We're very lucky," said Joyce Sutphin, 37. She had been home from work a short while and was eating soup with her 3-year-old daughter, Lexie, in the living room when she heard the whistle of high winds, what she described as a "freight train" sound.
"I grabbed my daughter and we hid under the bed," she said. "I thought that if we were going to go, we'd go together."
Yesterday, Sutphin's husband, Gary, stood in the yard and counted downed trees: seven, all of them torn to bits and lying around the brick-and-siding house. The front porch was torn off and tossed into the back yard, where his daughter's swing set was untouched.
The Sutphins and Johnson, 42, were among about a dozen Ada residents who spent yesterday clearing their yards of splintered tree limbs and roofing that had been ripped off their homes during what they described as a two-minute burst of gale-force winds and heavy rain. No one was injured, and the damage was confined to a relatively small area of the community about 55 miles west of Washington.
"We don't know for certain, but the damage is consistent with a tornado," said David Manning, a Weather Service meteorologist who spent yesterday with state officials photographing the debris.
Details about the storm's strength, including wind speeds and total damage, were not immediately known, and state emergency management officials said that information might not be available until today.
However, it was estimated yesterday that 16 homes sustained some damage in the storm, which mostly pelted areas along Crest Hill and Hume roads. Many of the homes were without electricity or phone service yesterday, emergency services officials said, and crews from Verizon and Dominion Power were working to restore service.
Most residents appeared to take the storm in stride. Those who had cleaned up what they could from their yards rested on lawn chairs, eating sandwiches as they waited for insurance adjusters.
Near the Sutphins' house, Henry Haynes, 61, marveled that his barn, its tin roof ripped off, was plucked from the ground and moved a few inches to the right.
"It doesn't make any sense the way these things work," he said, adding that he had no idea that a tornado might have blown through, not until he heard a loud crash and looked outside to see trees all over the ground.
Across the field, the Johnson family spent the day sweeping out their house, which, despite the smashed carport and missing sections of roof, was habitable.
Johnson said he had been on the couch watching television when the power went off. A moment later, the roof caved in and he was struck with bits of sheetrock and dirt and lots of rain, he said. But the ceiling fan, directly over where he had been sitting, remained intact.
"We're just so lucky right now," said his wife, Julie Johnson, 38, who had huddled with their two daughters in a corner as the carport blew over their house. "It could have been so much worse."