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'Just time to save yourself'
Storms damaged homes and businesses throughout the region overnight.

UPDATE: The National Weather Service has confirmed that a tornado is responsible for the damage in Stafford last night. The impact area was said to be from roughly the Cornerstone Baptist Church to just south of the airport.

The county is opening a Customer Service Center tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Berea Fire Station at 20 Sebring Way off Litchfield Boulevard. There will be information on repairs, permits and utilities available for affected residents.

County officials promise to speed up the permits process for residents of England Run North subdivision. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army are assisting those whose homes sustained damage.

The mood at the shelter is one of relief - that no one was seriously hurt.

One resident of Foggy Field Road, Peter Ortell, said his family is moving out of the neighborhood at the end of the month: To Kansas.

- Keith Epps

See related multimedia
SLIDE SHOW: Click here to view images of the storm damage.
Date published: 5/9/2008


BY KEITH EPPS, ELLEN BILTZ AND PETE CIHELKA


Jeff and Janice Leonard spent the morning of their 33rd wedding anniversary in the gym of T. Benton Gayle Middle School.

Catherine Gagnon turned 13 today not knowing when she would be able to sleep in her own bed again.

These southern Stafford County residents were among those displaced when a storm system packing howling winds passed through the Fredericksburg area last night.

Officials said dozens of homes and businesses were damaged.

But there were no reports of major injuries, officials said, and only one of a minor injury—apparently Jeff Leonard’s son, Andrew.

Jeff Leonard was asleep in the couple’s second-story bedroom at 89 Limestone Way when he was awakened by his wife. They looked out the window to see trees in their back yard bent over.

Then their windows began to flex inward and outward.

“That’s when I said, 'Get downstairs,' ” Jeff Leonard said.

“There was no time to get scared. There was just time to save yourself.”

Janice Leonard went to the basement while her husband went to warn their son, who was in his room playing computer games.

“I looked out and saw all the rain,” Andrew Leonard said. “Then the drawers in my dresser began moving in and out. I went to push them back in and that’s when [the storm] hit. Everything just started disappearing.”

The roof was blown off and the second-floor walls collapsed on the father and son. They managed to push the debris off themselves and made it downstairs to locate Janice.

Jeff was taken to Mary Washington Hospital with a gash to the back of his head that required 10 staples to close it.

This morning, all Jeff had at a shelter set up at Gayle for those displaced by storm damage were the hospital scrubs he was discharged with and two left shoes Janice managed to grab for him in the chaos.

Stafford Fire Lt. Mark Stone, one of numerous emergency workers at the scene last night, estimated that between 50 and 60 homes in that area were affected by the storm. He said about a dozen were damaged badly enough that the families could not live in them until repairs are made.


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Mobile kitchen offers some relief

After last night’s storm, a preteen boy in a pajamas and bathrobe foraged for breakfast. He found some—in the form of a PopTart and juice—from the Salvation Army’s canteen.

The mobile kitchen opened at 11 a.m. at the England Run subdivision in Stafford County and later moved to Gayle Middle School. The canteen mainly serves the first responders helping residents whose homes were damaged in last night’s storms.

But many residents have stopped by for lunch, coffee and tea as well, said Captain Christine Harris of the Fredericksburg Area Salvation Army. In nearly two hours, more than 40 people have eaten lunch at the canteen, she said.

She and the group’s workers are stocking the canteens shelves and serving at the same time. This emergency marks the canteen’s début, since the agency’s earlier mobile kitchen was destroyed by arson two years ago, Harris said.

- Amy Umble, The Free Lance-Star