Suffolk, Va. It was a scene of haphazard destruction that stretched for 25 miles: Row upon row of homes reduced to sprays of splintered lumber, shopping centers stripped to bare metal, parking lots turned into junk yards.
And yet no one died.
"The only thing I can say is we were watched over and blessed," Fire Chief Mark Outlaw said.
As residents and rescuers returned Tuesday to survey the wreckage from six tornadoes, they were amazed by both the scope of the damage and their good fortune. Even among the 200 people who were injured, most suffered only cuts and scrapes.
Authorities said people in the storm's path had plenty of warning and were fortunate that the strongest of the twisters struck in the late afternoon, rather than at night, when most residents would have been sleeping.
The extra few minutes provided enough time for people to huddle in bathrooms or crouch in the back of stores as the tornado zigzagged for 10 miles. The twister, along with the storm that spawned it, left a 25-mile swath of damage across central and southeast Virginia.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who declared a state of emergency in the hardest-hit areas, said about 145 homes were severely damaged in Suffolk, a city of 80,000 people west of Norfolk. Most of the injured had been released from hospitals.
"It is kind of amazing there weren't more significant injuries," Kaine said on WTOP radio in Washington, D.C. "You are talking about 145 homes; that is probably five to six hundred people directly affected by this tornado."
As he toured damaged neighborhoods later, Kaine said the number of people hurt or killed would have been much higher had the tornado struck a few hours later.
"There's definitely a miraculous quality to this," he told reporters.
At least three people were hospitalized in fair condition as of Tuesday evening, said Dana Woodson, spokeswoman for the city of Suffolk.
The tornado that hit Suffolk touched down repeatedly between 4:30 and 5 p.m. Monday, when many people were still at work or on their way home.
Brenda Williams, 43, had been getting a manicure at a nail shop in a strip mall when the lights went out and she saw debris flying in the wind around the parking lot. She rushed to the back of the shop for safety, but the ceiling collapsed, burying her.
She wasn't sure how long she was trapped.
She prayed, then hollered when she heard footsteps. A stranger pulled her out.
"I'm not lucky, I'm blessed," said Williams, who had a 2-inch gash stitched above her left eyebrow and stitches on her right forearm. "I'm fine. I'm here. I'm in the land of the living."
The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes also hit Brunswick County, about 60 miles west, and Colonial Heights, about 60 miles northwest. Three other twisters hit in Isle of Wight and Surry counties, and along the line separating Gloucester and Mathews counties, all in southeast Virginia. The other tornadoes caused far less damage than the twister that ravaged Suffolk.