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Chilhowie area sustains damage from storms
[May 05, 2011]

Chilhowie area sustains damage from storms

May 05, 2011 (Bristol Herald Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- CHILHOWIE, Va. -- Faye Thompson heard on the news that the storms had passed over Smyth County and were headed out toward Grayson. So, she turned off the TV and went to bed.

A few hours later, she woke up. She could feel the anchors holding her mobile home to the ground freeing themselves from their tethers.

Then, she was airborne. She and her little dog were pinned beneath her mattress as her home of 17 years flipped twice, before coming to rest on a tree.

"It seemed like it lasted forever," she said. "It was just like riding down a railroad track. I've never went 130 mph before -- I could go NASCAR." Thompson was lighthearted earlier this week as she, family and friends picked up the wreckage of what was her home -- her belongings strewn all over the yard, three outbuildings ripped to pieces. The cab of her white pickup truck was smashed in from where her house bounced off on its way to the tree.

"Don't you get in my flowers, that's all I've got left," she told her brother, who was helping clean up from the tornado that ripped through a week ago.

She told another friend to be sure not to break anything. The friend laughed and kept picking through the stuff that had spilled out of one of the outdoor buildings.

"I've laughed and I've kidded and I've joked and I can because I'm alive," she said. "And, I've had my meltdowns." Right after the storm, her son-in-law came to dig her out, she said, and the next day family members found her eyeglasses, medication and some clothes, which church friends washed for her Saturday.

Thompson, who lives on Plum Creek Road just outside of Chilhowie, was one of several along the road who sustained damage to their homes or barns as the system of tornados that wreaked havoc around the region moved through. Although the small Washington County town of Glade Spring was hardest hit, people living in other communities have their own harrowing tales of danger and destruction.

"I've lived out here since 1981 and we've never had anything like this," she said. "I've lived here [in the mobile home] for 17 years and I'd never come out for no storm." She said she will listen to storm warnings from now on, and each night before she falls asleep in her daughter's home on the same property, the terrifying ride replays in her mind. In the morning, she said, she wakes up and listens to make sure all is still and quiet.

"It's unreal," she said. "You just got to pick up and go on and pray we don't have another one." About a half-mile down the road, across state Route 107, Billie Stokes suffered what she called "cosmetic damage." "My chimney was leaning and I had to have that taken off," she said. "And 19 19- to 20-foot pine trees came down. I hadn't seen that field [behind my house] for 20 years. When I saw that field I knew we had a problem. It's still kind of shocking." She said the whole thing was over in less than a minute, not even giving her enough time to get downstairs before it was over.

"You didn't have time to be scared," she said. "I could hear things hitting my house. If I would've had time I would've been scared." Ken Heath, public information officer for Smyth County Emergency Services, said there generally has been about $2.5 million dollars worth of damage in the county, with $400,000 worth of damage to agriculture.

"We're blessed," he said. "Several had varying amounts of damage but no fatalities." He said something he would do differently from an emergency response perspective would be to improve the communication system when a disaster strikes. He said phone cables, cell towers and cable lines were knocked out, making it difficult for people to know what was coming their way.

"I always push for folks to buy a weather alert radio," he said. "You can set it to just your county. ... If you don't know how to program it, I'll do it for you." During the storm, he was in his basement posting updates to Facebook, which he said people have told him they appreciated.

But, he said, despite the lack of communication infrastructure in the area, aid response has been good.

"One thing we always do is pull together," he said. "The community pulled together, it really is neighbors helping neighbors." He said more help will be needed in the weeks to come.

"The hardest thing for people to do is to hold back," he said. "To get people to understand that in a lot of ways it is a grieving process ... in the weeks afterward that people feel alone and need help." Thompson said a lot of people have stopped to help her out, ranging from deputies with the Smyth County Sheriff's Office to friends and complete strangers.

"We've had so many people come and help," she said. "They've done a good job." Stokes said she thinks people in the Chilhowie community have taken the tornado aftermath in stride.

"This is one of those things you can't do anything about," she said. "It's OK. They were just trees. Nobody died." To see more of the Bristol Herald Courier or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2011, Bristol Herald Courier, Va.

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