Tragedy strikes residential Great Neck community, category EF3 tornado

HAVERSHAM CLOSE HOUSE sees the strong winds and effects from the Tornado. Residents gathered to check on one another and discussed their next steps. (Staff )

A grey gloom cast over the skies of Virginia Beach on April 30. The sound of lightning crashed with the heavy rainfall, illuminating the sky as a tornado touched down in the Great Neck community, which until that moment was unheard of until the twister hit.

After the initial terror of the event and once neighborhoods realized what had just happened, the glare of the destructive mess families would face seemed almost like a dream, or rather, a nightmare.

Hundreds of trees were found split, torn down, and scattered across yards and streets. Families gathered outside to assess the damage. Houses were found roofless with windows blown out and pieces now residing in neighbors’ lawns. Flashes of red and blue lights could be seen as emergency vehicles screamed to scenes that unfolded in a matter of minutes down Great Neck Road.

“It was just a normal Sunday night and my phone gave off this screeching alarm. It was an alert saying ‘Tornado Warning,’ senior Ben Hagen said. “All of the sudden, I heard my dad screaming and the power started to flicker in and out. I could feel the intensity of the tornado’s wind inside my house.”

Approximately 6 p.m. on that Sunday night, phones across the city alerted residents of a tornado warning. While this was not the first weather alert that was sent to residents, most people would assume that strong storms and wind would ensue. This time though, the threat was real.

The tornado, which first touched land on Great Neck’s River Side Road. Continuing to travel viciously, leaving flying debris and destruction in its wake, the tornado continued on, moving through the Broad Bay and specifically Haversham Close communities. Ripping through over a hundred homes, the funnel-like phenomenon was classified as an EF3, meaning that winds moved from 140 mph to 150 mph.

According to senior Mia Michaud, her house wasn’t nearly as damaged as some that would be hit. Although the Michaud house did have a tree fall into a bedroom, lost a several story shed filled with power tools to the water surrounding the property, and suffered a few blown out windows inside the home itself, her heart goes out to the families that lost their homes completely.

Families hit the hardest, whose homes sustained the most severe damage do not have houses to return to.

Now, with the assistance given by city officials, other families and friends, the area can see the light to recovery.

The three schools within the immediate Great Neck community: John B. Dey Elementary School, Great Neck Middle School, and Cox High School were completely closed down the day after the incident. Residents in homes affected by the tornado were provided with shelter at the Great Neck Recreation Center while the cafeteria at Cox High School was used as a command station by the Virginia Beach Police Department.

Senior Joe McGowan lives in the Broad Bay neighborhood and saw firsthand the damage that such a dynamic force of nature can cause.

”I walked outside after the tornado passed to see the damage that was done and I had absolutely no idea what I was about to witness, ” McGowan said. “I felt like I was in a movie because the neighborhood around me looked like what I imagine a ‘war zone’ would look like.