What was left of Hurricane Ivan surged into the Washington region yesterday, creating charcoal gray skies, menacing tornadoes that tore the roofs off several houses and thunderstorms that forecasters say will probably last through this afternoon before heading off the Eastern Seaboard.
From late afternoon through the evening, a seemingly endless string of funnel clouds and tornadoes whirled across the area. There were no reports of injuries last night, but dozens of homes in Fauquier and Prince William counties were damaged, and there was sporadic damage in Fairfax, Loudoun and Frederick counties. The weather also might have sparked a fire at Leesburg Executive Airport.
Although the damage was not widespread in the region, it was intense, as was the fear and uncertainty that came with at least a half-dozen tornado warnings from the National Weather Service.
In Centreville, families on Cub Run Road frantically ran for cover when the sky suddenly turned black, followed by an eerie moment of silence before a tornado roared through the Pleasant Valley neighborhood.
"One house -- it's just gone," Kim Bradley said, her voice still quaking two hours after the twister touched down about 6 p.m. "You can see their furniture. It was very scary. We could see it coming out the kitchen window, and I just yelled at everyone, 'Get downstairs, now!' . . . My youngest became hysterical. She's 12. She's still down in the basement and won't come up."
Chain saw units, swift water rescue crews, state police and the National Guard were mobilized in Virginia, where Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) declared the third weather-related state of emergency in almost five weeks. By early evening, nine tornadoes had touched down in Virginia, Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said, and 35 warnings had been issued across the state.
Warnings also were issued for Montgomery, Charles, Frederick and Prince George's counties in Maryland, and tornadoes were spotted in upper Montgomery and Frederick, officials said. There were no reports of severe damage.
Forecasters said that rainstorms probably would continue through this morning before tapering off this afternoon across the region but that no additional tornadoes were expected. The heaviest rain was forecast for southern Virginia, where flooding was possible. Last night, Route 50 was reported flooded between Interstate 66 and Waples Mill Road near Fairfax City, and high water was reported in parts of Prince William. Officials warned of flooding where it might not normally occur because of saturated ground. They also warned that downpours could cause mudslides in areas with steep terrain.
Yesterday's fearsome weather was the result of Hurricane Ivan breaking up and colliding over North Carolina with a cold front from the north, said Michael Sager, a meteorologist with AccuWeather. The cold air cut underneath the warm, tropical air from Ivan, pushing the unstable air skyward, increasing the likelihood of funnel clouds and tornadoes.
"Once it starts turning and gets stretched upward, it's like a figure skater pulling in her arms and the spinning gets faster and faster," Sager said.
The first tornado warning from the Weather Service came at 5:38 p.m. for Fairfax. It was followed in rapid succession by warnings for Prince William, Loudoun and Frederick. By 8 p.m., most of the region had had at least one tornado warning.
In Centreville, residents said they knew the tornado was coming, as television and radio stations went live with continuous updates.
The tornado there tore the roof and an addition off one house, where the residents escaped injury by huddling in a basement, neighbors said. The twister, fast and fickle, ripped up trees and wrenched off siding and walls on some houses, residents said, while leaving others unscathed.
"I live down the street. We were cooking dinner and didn't hear anything. We didn't know about it until a neighbor called to ask if we were all right," Maggie Taylor said.
In Fauquier, at least 25 houses in the Meadows subdivision off Lucky Hill Road were severely damaged. Multiple tornadoes also were seen in Warrenton and Bealeton. No injuries were reported by late yesterday.
Michael Troiano, who owns Andy's Grocery on Route 29 near Main Street in Remington, said he was standing behind his store when the first tornado came through. "A big funnel cloud touched down like an explosion," he said. "A bunch of debris, plyboard and boards, went way up in the air."
When it was safe, he surveyed the neighborhood. "A couple of houses were cut in half," he said. "It just blew them apart."
About 80 families sought shelter at Remington Elementary School. One couple, Dan St. Peter, 48, and his wife, New, 36, were in their house when the tornado hit. "We saw the funnel form, debris flying," Dan St. Peter said. They huddled on the second floor of the two-story home with their collie mix as the roof was torn off.
" 'Whoo, there it goes.' We could look up and see the clouds," Dan St. Peter said. Attic insulation fell around them like snow. The top half of the house was gone, the frame smashed, and their roof was in a field a half-mile away. Among their lost items were their wedding pictures.
A tornado damaged at least 35 homes in Manassas, 12 of them seriously, the Associated Press reported. Five of those homes were condemned, officials said.
In Maryland, the tornadoes seemed to hit more remote areas. Todd Webber was driving home to Frederick County when he saw a funnel cloud on the horizon. The storm had hit an area through Brunswick, wiping out a few houses and four barns, he said. The storm picked up a grain truck for sale at a farm along Route 17 and tossed it upside down back into the cornfields, he said.
"I saw the tornado touch down across the field," said Cpl. Gary Cline of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office. "I saw it pick up the truck. It whipped it back across the field.
"It was kind of eerie," he said. The tornado looked like "a solid black mass. It just tore up everything" in its path.
In nearby Knoxville, Amber Hagan was working at a Sheetz convenience store on Burkittsville Road when someone ran in screaming that a tornado was coming. "Everyone started running into the store," said Hagan, 18. "We were trying to get them in the office, the bathrooms, the cooler. Some people couldn't get in -- the door shut. The wind blew it shut."
Hagan, who lives in Brunswick, saw a funnel cloud come through. "It was so dark. It took up the whole sky. It was humongous."
She heard wind howling and the walls of the office shook, and then she heard a snap -- that was the sheet-metal roof of a nearby barn ripping through the parking lot. "It went flying through, hit the side of our building, smashed the back end of a car in our parking lot."
The town of Hamilton, west of Leesburg, was a tangle of fallen trees and power lines after the storm -- on cars, on houses, across roads. Steve Wence, who lives on Harmony Church Road, said that just before the storm hit, "it got real still. Then the wind started again and the lightning and thunder, and it sounded the way everybody says it sounds: like a freight train." He and his wife and daughter took refuge in the basement -- but not before his daughter saw the wind lift their trampoline off the ground.
At Dulles International Airport, workers were briefly evacuated from the air traffic control tower shortly after 6 p.m. when a funnel cloud was spotted approaching the airport, said Jonathan Gaffney, spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority.
Gaffney said people inside the terminal were told to move away from the large glass windows, and flights were grounded until about 6:45 p.m. One pilot awaiting takeoff at a gate evacuated passengers as a precaution, he said.
A spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power said more than 13,000 customers across Northern Virginia lost power when the high winds and heavy ran swept through.
April Rollins, 38, and her three children and two dogs also ran for the basement of their Hamilton home. "I don't know what we're going to do for dinner," she said in her darkened house on East Colonial Highway, "but we're making memories."
Staff writers Maria Glod, Sarah Park, Tamara Jones, Angela Watts, Thomas G. Wilkinson, Tim Craig, Joshua Partlow, Susan Kinzie, Rebecca Dana and Steven Ginsberg and the Associated Press contributed to this report.