The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Winds smash buildings
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY AND LIANA BAYNE
The Free Lance-Star
A strong windstorm Sunday afternoon destroyed two buildings and damaged several others in the Four-Mile Fork area of Spotsylvania County and injured seven people, but none of the injuries was life-threatening.
Witnesses believe a tornado touched down, but the National Weather Service will not be able to determine what it was until officials visit the scene or study photographs.
Jared Klein, a meteorologist with the service’s Sterling office, said a severe thunderstorm that passed through the Fredericksburg area created a downburst, a strong downdraft that causes damaging winds on or near the ground. Based on a description of the damage, he said it sounded more like a microburst than a tornado. Microbursts can be as damaging as a tornado, but they are confined to a smaller area.
NOTHING TO CHEER ABOUT
Cheer Fusion All–Stars, a cheerleading gym on Fleming Street, between Lafayette Boulevard and U.S. 1, was blown apart by the storm.
Parts of the concrete-block building ended up on top of a house next door. That house, owned by John and Pamela Bettis, sustained major damage and will likely be a total loss.
Mandi Spina, director of Cheer Fusion, said 14 cheerleaders, ages 11 to 18, were in the facility for a 5 p.m. practice when the storm hit.
Parents noticed the storm approaching, Spina said. They saw hail and then rain. The lights flickered on and off and then went out. The adults decided to herd everyone into an interior room, but before they could do that, a wall collapsed.
“Bricks were flying,” she said. “When they opened the door [after the storm], there was nothing outside.”
Parent Bill Johnson described the moment the storm hit.
“You could feel the pressure, and it was like a balloon,” he said. “The lights went out. Kids started screaming. We just got in a corner and huddled down.”
He said stuff was flying around inside the cheer studio.
Connie Allen, the owner of Cheer Fusion, was coaching when the storm struck.
“I could see the whirlwind,” she said. “Then all of a sudden the garage door came in.”
Cierra Davis, a rising seventh-grader at Battlefield Middle, and Meghan Thatcher, a rising Spotsylvania High freshman, were among the cheerleaders practicing at Cheer Fusion.
The girls said the adults acted quickly to move students into an interior dance room.
“They were just shoving kids in there,” Thatcher said. “And hail was just hitting you. We didn’t have time to grab our stuff.”
“We made it there just in time,” Davis said. “I don’t think all of us were even in there yet and it was collapsing. We couldn’t shut one of the doors, so we could see everything. We saw it all cave in and everything.”
Davis said she believes her cheer team now can survive anything.
“We can do anything now, there’s nothing to be scared of anymore,” Davis said. “When you’re scared to do something, now it’s like well, we went through a tornado, we shouldn’t be scared anymore.”
The students, while glad to be unharmed, were upset about their gym.
“That was like our second home, and it’s really sad it’s gone,” Davis said.
INJURIES THANKFULLY MINOR
Mark Kuechler, assistant chief of the Spotsylvania Volunteer Fire Department, said seven people were injured in the Fleming Street incident.
Four were transported to Mary Washington Hospital, but he said none appeared to have life-threatening injuries. The other three refused to go to the hospital.
‘PROPERTY CAN BE REPLACED BUT LIVES CANNOT’
The Bettises, whose home was next door to Cheer Fusion, also own three other houses adjacent to theirs.
Their son, Robert “Dicky” Bettis, said his parents were inside their home when the storm struck.
“The house moved about 10 feet off the foundation,” he said. Bettis said his fortunately were in a room on the side of the house farthest from the Cheer Fusion gym. The side nearest the gym sustained major damage.
“The roof is laying on the side of the house there,” Bettis said. “I think the [detached] garage is the only thing that didn’t move.”
“When it hit, it shoved the house and knocked Mom down,” Bettis said. He said his mother hurt her knee when she fell, but her injury was not serious. His father wasn’t hurt at all, he said.
“Thank the Lord for it not being worse than it is,” Bettis said. “I’m glad the neighbors are OK, too.
“We’re lucky it was just an isolated incident,” he said, “and not half the town.”
Bettis, who lives about three miles away from his parents’ now-destroyed house, said they’ll be staying with him until they figure out another option.
“Property can be replaced,” Bettis said, “but lives cannot.”
Frank Kuhn, Jr., 94, lives in one of the houses the Bettis family owns, just feet from their own.
“I prayed to God yesterday that something would happen so I didn’t have to wash a pile of dishes in the sink,” he said.
He wasn’t expecting God to answer with a violent storm.
“It knocked me out of my bed and lifted my house,” Kuhn said.
Nearby on U.S. 1, where the tornado or microburst storm first touched down, is SetN Trendz Salon. It’s in a small strip center where Penn–Mar Floor Service used to be.
Crystal Smith, the salon’s owner, and her 13-year-old daughter, Sierra Frazier, were the only ones in the salon when the tornado hit.
“The water started coming from under the front door and we looked out the window and it was white,” Frazier said.
Then she saw what was likely the tornado or microburst.
“It was like a big black shadow in front of the window. Mom thought it would come through, so we ran down the hall into the kitchen,” she said.
Then the roof began caving in.
“We grabbed each other, shut our eyes and started praying,” she said.
STORM ENDS HEAT WAVE
The fire department’s Kuechler said the storm came from the north–northwest and most of the damage was contained to the area immediately around the building collapses. Nearby subdivisions, including Spotswood Estates, lost power, and huge trees were down all over the place.
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Dominion Virginia Power reported thousands of customers were without power Sunday night in Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg after the storms.
Something good did come from the storm system: It wiped out the recent heat wave.
The weather station at the University of Mary Washington reported a high Sunday of 100 degrees at 3:16 p.m. As the storm swept through with heavy rains the mercury dropped 32 degrees to 68 just before 6 p.m.
Winds during the storm gusted to 35 mph, and nearly 250 lightning strikes at the station on the Fredericksburg campus were recorded during the height of the storm from 5 to 6 p.m.
The storm dumped three-quarters of an inch of rain, the first rainfall so far this month.