Winter was winding down. It had been a rainy but mild week so far, and no doubt people were looking forward to spring — with its March breezes, April showers and May flowers. Some people were out to dinner, while others were at home getting ready for a night of family television.
But Wednesday, February 24, had a terrifying surprise in store — an EF-3 tornado ripped a random 28-mile track across the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck, with winds up to 140 miles-per-hour, destroying or damaging at least 30 structures and injuring at least 25 people, about half of them critically. By some miracle, no one was killed. At times, the tornado’s path was nearly 500 yards wide. Within minutes of the storm’s passing, friends and neighbors were rushing to clear debris from public roadways and private property, making way for first responders to reach the injured.
Temporary shelters were established and volunteers began collecting donations of money and basic necessities for the displaced. Utility crews arrived from near and far to remove downed power lines and begin to restore electricity to hundreds of customers without service, while other all-volunteer clean-up crews got to work wherever they were needed.
The team at EVB got to work as well. M. Robin Jett, EVB senior vice president and market manager for the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, noted that the bank team took advice from local officials as to what were the community’s greatest needs. “By early Thursday morning, we had a plan,” she said. Ideas turned into action on programs both official and unofficial to help victims of the storm. Teammates at all EVB branches joined forces to collect supplies and donations for victims of the destruction. The community banks became mini warehouses of bottled water, non-perishable food, cleaning supplies, yard tools, toiletries and clothing. Branch employees transported donations to local distribution centers and cash donations collected at the banks were passed along to the American Red Cross.
Jett praised her teammates for their cooperation and helpful attitude. “They really opened up their hearts and came together as a family,” she said. “It was rewarding to see how the community came together to support each other.”
Many teammates in the local branches live in the affected areas, said Rebecca Hubert, vice president and Tappahannock branch manager. “Their work ethic was so impressive. Everybody came in to work the next morning ready to help,” she said. The event wasn’t simply a news story to the team at EVB, she explained. “Everyone was so emotionally involved. The Tappahannock victims are our customers. We know them personally. We live and work with them.” In some cases, bank teammates contacted relatives of some of the victims hospitalized with injuries, and collected items to donate directly to those victims and their families.
In between dropping off donations, Tim Saunders, branch manager at Essex Square, spent the Saturday after the tornado available to customers who needed help with lost debit cards, checks and other financial paperwork. “We were focused on the immediate needs — anything we could do to help people recover,” Saunders said. EVB also created an emergency community relief loan program to aid in covering the costs of storm damage not covered by conventional insurance.
On the Monday following the tornado, Ryan Barrack, EVB microsystems manager, was riding in to work listening to his usual radio station, 90.5 WPER Positive Hits. Along the way, he heard a public service announcement requesting volunteers to help the radio station give out water and lunches to workers cleaning up tornado debris around Tappahannock and Essex County.
Barrack rallied his co-workers at EVB corporate headquarters and later that morning his group of volunteers got busy. The bank volunteers met up with other groups at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Dunbrooke Rd., got organized, then fanned out north along U.S. Route 17, at Daingerfield and Benton Point. The EVB volunteers handed out water and lunches, and mingled with other volunteers and victims.
Barrack noted the “randomness” of the tornado’s path — where one house is standing and a nearby house is destroyed. “It’s sad that you could work 50 years to accumulate what you have and it can be gone in four minutes.” In contrast, “It’s uplifting to see people working so hard to help others while expecting nothing in return,” he said.
“It was mind-boggling to get a first-hand look at the damage,” said Denise Lyell, director of bank operations. “It reminds you how lucky we are that there were no fatalities. I think it was good to see people helping each other out — and just to have a chance to talk.”
Other EVB lunch-crew volunteers included: Brittany Fauntleroy, microsystems technician; Brandon Carter, microsystems technician; Misty O’Bier, systems analyst; and Tina Brewer, fraud specialist.
Eastern Virginia Bankshares, Inc., is a bank holding company headquartered in Tappahannock. Through its wholly-owned bank subsidiary, EVB, founded in 1910, the company operates 24 full-service branches in eastern Virginia located in the counties of Essex, Gloucester, James City, Hanover, Henrico, King William, Lancaster, Middlesex, New Kent, Northumberland, Southampton, Surry, Sussex and Warwick, and the City of Colonial Heights. EVB traces its history to the formation of its predecessors Southside Bank and Bank of Northumberland, Inc., in 1910, Hanover Bank in 2000 and Virginia Company Bank in 2014. EVB is a community bank targeting small to medium-sized businesses and consumers. For more information, please visit www.bankevb.com.