VIRGINIA — The storm system that brought deadly tornadoes to Mississippi and Louisiana wreaked destruction along the East Coast on Wednesday, mangling buildings and taking more lives.
A possible tornado hit Waverly, Virginia, killing three people, one a 2-year-old boy, Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the state police, said in a news release.
Another man was found dead in Appomattox County, Virginia.
The news brought the two-day death toll from the storm to seven.
The town put a curfew into effect at 7:30 p.m. ET to clear the roads for cleanup and first responders, state police said.
Some 209,000 customers were without power, officials with utility companies in several states and the District of Columbia said.
One witness told CNN affiliate WAVY that the destruction in the small town of Waverly was “completely devastating.”
“Cars were crumpled on the highway. It picked cars up and threw them in the ditch,” Sharon Faison, a medical assistant who drove to the mobile home park where the three deaths occurred, told the station. “We just have to pray.”
The other victims were a 50-year-old man and a 26-year-old man who were in the same trailer as the 2-year-old. Their bodies were found 300 yards from where the trailer once sat, officials said.
Desmond Gardner told WAVY that he was in his car with a relative when the wind tore down power lines.
“It was like a big ball of fire,” he said, adding that the storm debris headed directly at the car. The sedan suddenly left the ground.
“The wind picked the car up and dropped us down,” he said. “All I could do was hold on tight, tell my uncle I loved him and pray.”
Gardner said he and his uncle were OK, but a good friend of his was one of those killed.
Virginia authorities said a funnel cloud in Appomattox County injured seven people, two seriously.
Schools in the county will be closed Thursday due to the storm, which “left an 8-10 mile path of destruction,” state police said.
A tornado may have also touched down in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, County Commissioner Dennis Stuckey told CNN. Multiple buildings, possibly homes and barns, are down. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
‘Mass destruction everywhere’
Armin Harris was driving through Waverly on his way to pick up his daughter from school.
He was running about a few minutes late after a stop at a gas station.
He drove upon destruction on the highway, which he first thought was a really bad accident.
“I just stayed in my car and prayed, hoping no one was hurt,” Harris told CNN. “Then I saw this lady who was saying they were looking for a kid.”
Harris got out of his car to see if he could help, and was stunned by the damage and realized it was from a storm.
“It was indescribable,” he said. “There was mass destruction everywhere.”
The father said emergency officials were helping to get a lady out from the rubble. They had a forklift picking up the broken parts of a building.
Harris feared that if he hadn’t stopped at the gas station he would have been in the middle of what people described as a tornado.
Waverly is between Richmond and Norfolk; Virginia is in the region meteorologists predicted would be hit the hardest.
“The greatest threat will be over parts of the Mid-Atlantic. Tornadoes, damaging wind gusts and large hail are possible,” the National Weather Service said Wednesday afternoon.
There was a tornado reported in Essex County, Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
At least 20 people there are being treated for injuries sustained due to the storm.
“There are downed trees, power outages, homes destroyed and injuries. It is so important that you please STAY OFF THE ROADS and stay away from downed power lines,” Essex County Emergency Management said on its Facebook page. “This is very serious situation and emergency personnel are trying to assist those in need.”
CNN affiliate WWBT reported that several people in Tappahannock — a city in Essex County — were trapped in wreckage from the storm.
The NWS predicted the storms’ impact zone could be even wider, with powerful thunderstorms possible along most of the East Coast.
Five tornadoes touched down in North Carolina, according to preliminary reports from the weather service.
Sears Day showed CNN affiliate WRAL the aftermath on his dairy farm — a silo was torn apart and a vehicle was turned upside down, but none of his 150 cattle were hurt, he said.
In Durham, the Duke men’s basketball team took shelter in an underground tunnel.
The harsh conditions would not just be limited to rain and those states — Illinois and Indiana residents were concerned about possible blizzard conditions.
A rare February tornado watch was issued for parts of the Northeast. The watch area includes the District of Columbia, Delaware, central and eastern Maryland, southern New Jersey, southeast Pennsylvania, and Northern Virginia.
The watch is in effect until 11 p.m. ET Wednesday.
On Tuesday, three people died as tornadoes swept across the South.
Ryan Portish hustled his dog into the bathtub and climbed in. Three more people piled in with them.
“They were praying, and I was crying. I was so scared,” Portish told CNN affiliate WVUE from St. James Parish, Louisiana. “I heard a big rumbling sound, the whole entire house started shaking and I just knew that it was a tornado.”
Portish and the others were unhurt when the twister — one of 27 reported Tuesday across the Gulf Coast — brushed past his home.
But others in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were not so fortunate. Dozens were injured and severe damage was reported across the Deep South.
Two of the dead were in an RV park in Convent, Louisiana, not far from Portish’s home. A tornado ripped through the park around 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET) leaving 160 motor homes and trailers in a field of debris.
More than 30 were injured at the RV park, seven critically, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy J. Martin said.
Aerial images of the park showed smashed cars, overturned RVs and twisted wreckage amid the dozens of empty lots.
Many of the residents were home when the twister hit, having been dismissed early from work because of the approaching storms. Martin called it a miracle that only two lives were lost.
Losing everything in 10 minutes
Twenty-five miles away in St. John the Baptist Parish, one resident who lost his home was in disbelief.
“You’re sitting there one minute playing video games and the next thing you know, your house is gone. — within 10 minutes,” said Michael Nelson, who was home with family members.
“I’ve got literally nothing left,” Nelson told CNN affilte WVUE. “We’re all alive, so that’s a blessing in itself.”
The Nelsons will stay with family nearby, but they said their home is likely a total loss.
Gov. John Bel Edwards traveled to the damaged areas and declared a state of emergency for seven parishes Tuesday night.
One dead in Mississippi
In Mississippi, a man was killed when his mobile home was crushed in the storm in Lamar County, the National Weather Service said.
The Lamar County Coroner identified the victim as 73-year old Harris Dale Purvis, according to CNN affiliate WLBT.
Florida apartments crushed
Storms demolished apartment buildings north of Pensacola. The National Weather Service retweeted photos of caved-in units and rubble. Escambia County officials reported three injuries.
Several people were injured and cars were flipped over near Pensacola, said NWS meteorologist Steve Miller. Drove video showed significant damage to an apartment building in Pensacola.
Preliminary reports show the path of the Pensacola tornado was roughly 7 miles long, and that it destroyed four buildings and damaged 24, with minor damage to 58, according to the NWS.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.