Tornado Causes Estimated $3 Million in Damage to Virginia Base

May 2, 2023
A tornado that hit Fort Story in Virginia Beach on Sunday night caused massive damage and knocked out power for 18 hours.

Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story sustained an estimated $3 million in damage from Sunday’s tornado in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which ripped the roof off a barracks building, downed approximately 100 trees and left the entire base without power for about 18 hours.

“And that list could grow,” said Capt. Michael Witherspoon, the commanding officer.

After touching down Sunday evening in the Great Neck area of Virginia Beach, the tornado went northeast, crossed Broad Bay and took aim at the joint military base. Meteorologists at the National Weather Service office in Wakefield confirmed Monday morning that the cyclone was an EF-3 tornado, which carries winds between 136 and 165 mph.

According to Witherspoon, the tornado hit the base’s training section first and moved to the water’s edge by the historic Cape Henry house. Witherspoon was in his home next door to the Cape Henry house when the tornado came through.

“The whole house vibrated for a minute and a half … It was just a roaring sound. I could feel the house moving,” Witherspoon said. “It was a fierce storm, and it was quick.”

The tornado took out power for the entire base for around 18 hours, with around 95% of power being restored by 10 a.m. Monday. According to Witherspoon, Dominion Energy and Navy facility and emergency management teams worked around the clock.

“You can imagine that was quite a bit of work — to get power lines and transformers replaced. And we had to run new wiring for a lot of the electrical grid,” Witherspoon said.

A chain-link fence surrounding the vacant Cape Henry house was mangled, and a pump house next to the historic home was totally demolished, with bricks and debris strewn about the property.

Other parts of the base were littered with downed trees. The entrance of Operations Building 863 was nearly impassible with a large tree totally uprooted across a walkway, blocking the door. And a slender tree branch was embedded in the adjacent concrete building.

Across the way, the roof of a barracks building was crumpled. The damage to the roof resulted in the displacement of 56 service members. But Witherspoon said the service members were promptly moved to a neighboring building.

“We are lucky no one was injured. We can recover from the debris cleanup and the removal of trees and just restoring the installation,” Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon expects Fort Story will have recovered from the storm within two weeks. But there are some repairs that may take longer, such as to the damaged barracks, as the base uses the opportunity to make upgrades.

Caitlyn Burchett,

© 2023 The Virginian-Pilot.


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