Colonial Heights, VA Tornado Damage, Aug 1993



Colonial Heights, Va. (AP) -- The three people killed when a tornado slammed into a darkened department store were heading for the front doors when the twister hit, authorities said Saturday.
"They were in the process of coming out of the store because the power was out," Colonial Heights police Capt. Larry L. Williams said. The tornado hit the front of the store first, cutting a swath 40 to 50 feet wide.
A fourth person was killed when the storm hit a Prince George County construction site Friday.
Williams said everyone known to be in the Wal-Mart store had been accounted for Saturday. Nevertheless, workers resumed their search through the rubble after engineers stabilized walls and ceilings.
What remained of the store's front wall teetered precarioiusly toward the building's ravaged interior. Crews worked to tear down the wall before it could collapse.
Fearing that people could have been swept out of the building by the ferocious winds, authorities also searched a brushy area around a lake behind the store but found nothing.
"It was so quick, probably nobody had time to do anything," said Robert L. Bohannon, a police chaplain who counseled many of the 119 who were injured in the store.
Wal-Mart officials met Saturday with the store's 400 workers at the company's distribution center a few miles away in Sutherland.
"There was a lot of hugging, a little bit of tears, a lot of laughter," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jane Arend. "They are supporting each other, leaning on each other. We'll be back."
She said employees who do not opt to take vacation or leave will work at the distribution center or other area stores. "They will all have jobs," she said.
The people in the store were among 170 hurt when twisters slashed through several Virginia localities Friday.
Tornadoes rarely strike Virginia, and Friday's was the deadliest to hit the state since 1959, when 10 people were killed by an Albemarle County twister. The state's last tornado, in 1989, killed two people in the Shenandoah Valley.
Friday's dead were identified as Wal-Mart employees CHERYL DIANE WEISHEIM, 40, and CAROLYN GUNN, 48; customer MAE PROSISE, 57; and MORRIS GUPTON, JR., 28, the Prince George County victim.
Most of the injured were taken to Southside Regional Medical Center. Seventeen people were admitted, and one remained in serious condition Saturday. Injuries ranged from broken bones to head and neck problems.
The storm also injured at least 30 people in Petersburg and ravaged te city's historic Old Towne district. Damage in the city was estimated at $10 million.
The tornado was packing winds of 210 mph when it struck Petersburg, meteorologist Jim Belville of the National Weather Service in Rockville, Md., said.

Logansport Pharos-Tribune Indiana 1993-08-08