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Hampton declares emergency for tornado-hit areas

Monday - 6/4/2012, 4:41pm  ET

By BROCK VERGAKIS
Associated Press

HAMPTON, Va. - State officials viewed dozens of homes on Monday that were damaged when a tornado struck, displacing several families and causing millions of dollars in damage.

A tornado struck Petersburg and Hampton on Friday evening, although only a handful of minor injuries were reported.

"We have a happy story," said Hampton Mayor Molly Ward, whose neighborhood was littered with debris. "No one was hurt and ... a lot of neighbors have been able to help each other."

A local emergency was declared for areas in Hampton affected by a tornado, but city officials say they don't believe the damage will meet the required levels for state or federal assistance.

The tornado that struck Hampton _ which caused damage over the course of roughly 3 miles and had winds reaching 98 miles per hour _ caused more than $4.3 million in damage. Damage estimates for Petersburg were not immediately available.

Hampton City Council will consider at its next meeting a proposal to waive permit fees for residents repairing damage.

Amid sounds of chainsaws clearing fallen trees, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker and state emergency management coordinator Michael Cline surveyed the damage in Hampton and Petersburg on Monday.

Cline said the damage in Petersburg was similar to that in Hampton with trees ranging in age from 80 to 200 years old falling on homes, although the damage didn't appear to be in as much of a straight path as it was in Hampton.

"It seemed to bounce quite a bit in Petersburg, there were three or four different areas and it would be on the ground for a few hundred yards and then lift up it seemed like. And you can tell sometimes the tops of trees would be hit and then drop back down lower," he said.

In Hampton, Blue tarps covered scores of roofs where trees and other debris had poked holes in houses. At least one car was crushed by a tree, and utility companies were out repairing power and cable lines.

In Hampton, four homes were so badly damaged that they were condemned.

Michelle Bowers' home was among them. She was at home when the tornado struck and had little time to prepare.

"It really didn't sound like anything to me. Everybody else is saying they heard the traditional train sound, but all I heard was kaboom," she said. "We've got structural damage inside. Our porch was completely ripped off, puncture holes in our garage, splits in our floor, water damage."

Bowers is staying with a friend for now and has posted no trespassing signs on one of the remaining trees in her front yard after she found someone trying to loot her home Friday evening. Police cars were seen patrolling the area on Monday and authorities have urged those who don't live in the affected areas to stay out.

Some neighborhood streets were nearly impassable by vehicle because so many tree branches and limbs had been put there awaiting collection, with some piles reaching more than six-feet high. Nearly 100 truckloads of debris were collected by city workers over the weekend.

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Online: Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Tags: tornadoweather