PENNINGTON GAP, Va. (WJHL) – Tuesday evening’s storm system battered parts of Lee County, which were under a tornado warning at the time.
Trees were down across the Pennington Gap, Woodway and Ben Hur communities. Elk Knob Elementary School and the Westgate Mini Mall in Pennington Gap sustained considerable wind damage.
Larry Warner owns Warner Tobacco Outlet in the mini-mall. He was at the store when the storm rolled in, holding the front door shut as wind threatened to pull it open.
“I was actually expecting the building to go down because I’ve never seen wind like that,” Warner said.
The other side of Warner’s building received far worse damage. Warner said metal was ripped off and the mini mall’s concrete-anchored sign was blown over.
“I was here just watching things fly away,” Warner said. “There was an electrical sign up on that side of the building. I don’t know where it ended up… maybe in Wise County.”
Several structures at the Pennington Gap Farmer’s Market were also seen toppled over.
South of town in Woodway, Lee County Schools Superintendent Brian Dean said Elk Knob Elementary School was forced to cancel school Wednesday and Thursday due to wind damage.
Students were thankfully out of the building by the time the storm rolled in.
“We realized part of the roof had been blown back,” Dean said. “It picked up some of the solar panels that were there and pushed them on the other part of the system.”
The solar panels, awarded as part of a renewable energy grant, had only been in use for a couple of months.
Dean says it’s unclear whether they are salvageable or will need to be replaced.
Roofing crews were working to fix the damage to the school’s exterior. Teachers and staff were hard at work inside making sure the school is dry.
“We’ve had water inside, so we had some windows that were blown out,” Dean said. “We had some windows that were blown open, so we’re trying to mitigate that at this time.”
If all goes well with repairs, Dean said students could be back at Elk Knob as soon as Friday.
School was out district-wide Wednesday as multiple schools were without power. All schools except Elk Knob will be back in class Thursday.
It was also a busy 24 hours for emergency crews, tree cutters and local power companies.
Wind and tree damage left hundreds of Lee County Old Dominion Power customers with power outages.
“We’ve had trees down, power lines down, transformers blowing, things of that nature,” said Lee County Emergency Services Coordinator Billie Coleman. “We did have a couple of reports of trees on houses, three or four. No injuries in those cases thankfully.”
The storm knocked the county 911 system offline for some time. Calls had to be directed to neighboring counties, then sent back to Lee County first responders.
“We were working off mobile radios and cell phones in order to get response out to the citizens,” Coleman said. “That lasted for no longer than three hours, so we are back and operable.”
No injuries have been reported in Lee County as a result of the storm surge.
“I’ve just never experienced anything like that, and hope I don’t again,” Warner said.
Coleman said crews should have most of the power back on by Wednesday night.