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Weather Service: '11 deadliest for tornadoes in Va

Friday - 4/29/2011, 4:42pm  ET

By TIM HUBER and DENA POTTER
Associated Press

GLADE SPRING, Va. (AP) - A series of twisters that swept through the state this month have made 2011 the second deadliest year in Virginia for tornadoes since 1950, the National Weather Service said Friday.

Five people were killed Wednesday and Thursday as at least seven tornadoes hit the state. The number could increase as weather service crews continue to verify reported twisters.

Two others died earlier this month when tornados hit Gloucester County.

April's death toll ranks second only to the 12 killed in a single day in 1959. The weather service has only tracked tornado fatalities since 1950, although it has documentation of a string of tornadoes killing 22 and injuring 150 on May 2, 1929.

"What's happened this month, it's just staggering," said Bill Sammler, a weather service meteorologist.

Gov. Bob McDonnell went to Washington County Friday to view the damage caused by a powerful EF3 tornado that hit the Glade Spring area early Thursday. The twister packed winds of up to 165 miles per hour that toppled tractor-trailers, destroyed homes and left four dead and another 50 injured.

Tornados are ranked on a scale from E0 to E5, the highest with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

McDonnell said he was going to ask President Barack Obama for a federal disaster declaration. McDonnell has already declared a state of emergency, allowing state resources to be used in the recovery effort.

"I think we ought to apply sooner rather than later," he said on the flight to Washington County.

McDonnell met with emergency responders and officials before going out to meet with those whose homes were destroyed.

"Hopefully, we can get our people back on their feet again," Board of Supervisors member Dulcie Mumpower, told McDonnell as he hugged her.

An official estimate of the damage _ which spread from southwestern to northeastern Virginia _ was not available Friday.

For Shane Gilland, the loss of his parents' Bethel home means saying goodbye to the site of holiday dinners.

"To me it's overwhelming to look and see almost everything your family's worked for and it's gone," he said, while standing in the remains of a bedroom, the former walls outlined by where the hardwood flooring ended.

"But it's material. We're all alive and we're healthy and we thank God for that."

His mother, 58-year-old Gail Gilland, awoke as the storm tore away the roof and shattered windows around 1:15 a.m. Thursday. She hit the floor and clung to the heavy wooden leg of the bed frame.

Down the hallway, her husband James, 68, awoke as the storm busted out a window, threw him out of bed and then lifted the mattress and frame into the air. It swirled, then hit him and knocked him into the hallway, he said.

James _ "buck naked," as he described it _ kicked in the door to Gail's bedroom and sent her downstairs while he found some pants.

A piece of the roof landed in the front yard. Most of the rest disappeared.

While the Gillands lost much, they survived with some of their possessions and their sense of humor.

"Hot tub survived," James Gilland said proudly.

Across the state in Halifax County, a woman died Thursday in an EF2 tornado that carried winds of up to 135 miles per hour. A tornado of similar strength touched down in Smyth County in southwest Virginia.

Less severe tornadoes were confirmed in Carolina, Goochland, Shenandoah and Cumberland counties.

More than 7,000 people, mostly in southwest Virginia, remained without power Friday morning.

Michael Cline, director of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said even people whose homes were not harmed by the storm are showing up at a Red Cross shelter at Emory and Henry University because the lack of power makes it impossible to prepare food.

This week's storms mark the third time this month that tornados have hit Virginia communities. Two tornados hit Pulaski County in early April. Weeks later, the deadly tornado in Gloucester was one of at least 10 to strike Augusta, Dinwiddie, Halifax and Rockbridge counties.

"It's been a tough month in Virginia," said Emergency Management spokeswoman Laura Southard. "This is a wake-up call for all families to be prepared for bad weather and to make a family plan."

Jo Ann Hill, 67, left her Glade Spring apartment so quickly Thursday to seek shelter in a friend's basement that only her Chihuahua accompanied her. Her ferrets, Booper and Whitely, stayed behind.

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