A tornado ripped through Franklin County on Friday, destroying at least two homes and leaving tree limbs and debris in its wake.
The tornado was reported at 10:35 a.m. over Sontag, just south of Rocky Mount, moving northeast at 45 mph, according to the National Weather Service. There also were reports of quarter-sized hail and flying debris.
A house on Windy Ridge Road and another on Fishburn Mountain Road were leveled. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said several other structures were destroyed. The office had not received any reports of injuries related to the storm as of Friday evening.
Delores Anderson was on her front porch on Windy Ridge when she felt the wind and knew the tornado was approaching.
“I heard it coming and took off to the basement and started praying,” said Anderson, 63, standing outside the rubble of her home of 40 years.
The wind sounded like a train, she said. A 20-plus-foot RV in the driveway slammed into the brick garage and barrelled through a fence and down the hill in her backyard. Towels and a saucepan, a toilet seat and a can of cooking oil were strewn across the lawn. The landscape below looked as if a giant claw had swiped the overstory, snapping treetops like cracker jacks.
“We’ve got a lot of friends and neighbors that have helped,” Anderson said. “I’m just blessed to be alive.”
Troy Haynes could see the twister coming over a hill from Peters Auto Service on Windy Ridge, where he works as a mechanic. After it passed, he drove west and saw that Anderson’s roof was gone.
“I started hollering her name and she hollered back at me … which was good,” Haynes, 51, said. He helped her out of the basement.
Dozens of people combed through the wreckage Friday afternoon, carrying out ceramics to a trailer and raising an American flag over the home.
Sheriff Bill Overton arrived and went from person to person, consoling.
Across the highway from Windy Ridge, the storm leveled a home on Fishburn Mountain Road that its owners said was unoccupied at the time. Owner Doug Worley, 37, was in the process of renovating it.
“I am just glad nobody was in it,” he said. “This is not the spring cleaning you want to do.”
His daughters, Delma Rose Worley, 10, and Douglas Anne Worley, 5, were with him. “I feel like it’s a dream I’ll never wake up from,” Delma Rose said.
First responders, including firefighters from Roanoke and Salem, staged in the field. Some piloted a drone over ScrapCo, a salvage yard, to survey the extent of the storm’s destruction. A Harley-Davidson trailer, a gash ripped into its top, was thrown into the brush along with scraps of metal. Bits of insulation hung from the bushes like clothes on a line.
The National Weather Service website reported multiple downed trees, a rescue squad crash in the Sontag area and damage to other buildings.
Appalachian Power Co. reported nine power poles and 13 spans of wire in Franklin County were damaged. About 700 customers lost power during the storm, but as of 8 p.m. about 250 customers remained in the dark. Restoration times were hard to estimate, the company said, because of the destruction.
One wire span crossed U.S. 220, which will have to be closed to repair it, the company said.
A survey from meteorologists will have to take place for official confirmation and to determine the tornado’s strength, said Vance Joyner, meteorologist and forecaster with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg. That could happen Saturday, he said.
The Roanoke valley remained under a tornado watch for most the day.
By 8 p.m. Friday, the severe weather, including flooding, had mostly died down, according to Ben Gruver, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg. Pulaski County was hardest hit by flooding, with about a dozen road closures, he said.
In addition to the tornado that touched down in Franklin County, officials would look into reports of tornado sightings in Bedford and Halifax counties, Gruver said.
The weather service asks people to stay safe, but when possible send reports of wind damage, hail, flooding or other damage to any of its social media pages, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 866-215-4324.
Staff writer Casey Fabris and photographer Heather Rousseau contributed information to this report.