‘It scarred the community’: Tappahannock looks back on destructive 2016 tornado

ESSEX County, Va. (WRIC) – A year has passed since a destructive tornado outbreak hit Virginia, and Tappahannock residents are still recovering from the  EF3 tornado that touched down there.

“It scarred the community,” said Captain Walter Holmes with the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.

It’s scar marked by the line of bent and broken trees running through Tappahannock. The twister reached an estimated maximum wind speed of 140 miles per hour, carving a 28-mile path and growing up to 500 yards wide.

“People are still talking about it and still helping,” Capt. Holmes said. “We thank God for that.

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What’s left of a children’s swing set hangs from a nearly flattened tree, serving as a reminder of life before the disaster.

“The good thing about it is we pulled together as a community and we’re getting through it together,” Capt. Holmes told 8News, standing where his life-long church used to be.

The 145-year-old sanctuary at St. Johns Baptist Church was ravaged when the tornado hit.

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More than two dozen people in Tappahannock were hurt. Some were thrown from their homes; others were trapped.

“(I was) trying to pull people from under the rubble. We pulled six people from over there,” the captain said, gesturing toward a field across Route 659.  First responders from Richmond County raced across the Rappahannock River to help in the rescues. Captain Holmes said there was one rescue he will never forget.

“He couldn’t move. He was pretty much laying on the ground under the rubble. The young man was saying ‘Help, give me some help.  I don’t want to die.’”

No one was killed in Tappahannock, thanks to the dedication of the area’s first responders.

“Fire and rescue, we’re a small community – we look out for each other and when there’s a call to action we come running,” said Captain Mitch Paulette, Operations Captain for Richmond County Emergency Services.

Captain Holmes said he stays in touch with some of the people he helped rescue. Each of them is at a different stage in recovery. As for his church, there are plans to rebuild this spring,
with hopes to have the building finished by December.

Tomorrow we continue our look back on the violent tornado outbreak, taking you to Waverly Virginia, the area hardest hit in the disaster. In case you missed our look at the recovery at Naylor’s beach, click here.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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