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'Surreal' | Virginia Beach fire captain reflects on EF-3 tornado aftermath

Capt. Jon Rigolo said he had never seen this kind of destruction in Virginia Beach. Neighbors, still in shock, told 13News Now the same thing.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Many city officials and emergency responders have described the plenty of resources on hand for Something in the Water on Sunday as a "blessing." 

Several agencies quickly pivoted from the Oceanfront to the Great Neck area that evening after a confirmed EF-3 tornado touched down.

Since then, more homeowners have shared their stories of survival. Winds gusted up to 145 miles per hour. 

"It really got loud and then all of a sudden, there was all the exploding glass we heard that all over the house. I was like, woah, this thing is right on top of us," said Ray Payne, who lives in Broad Bay Point Greens. He recounted to 13News Now taking cover in his basement bathroom. 

"If you're in a house that has a basement, a basement is the best location for you to get in. If you do not have a basement, make sure you get into an interior room that does not have any windows, most likely it's going to be a bathroom, laundry room or closet," said Jason Elmore with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Elmore urged people to sign up for or turn on weather alerts and to pack emergency kits.

"We normally do bring it up around hurricane season and such, but this is just another example of something can happen anywhere, at any time. So, you always have to be prepared by having an emergency kit like that," Elmore added.

Neighbors, city leaders and first responders consider it a miracle that no one died or got hurt. 

"To the citizens, to the folks who were in their homes, the first responders, even the folks now who are out there with the chainsaws, heavy equipment doing the cleanup," said Capt. Jonathan Rigolo with the Virginia Beach Fire Department

He was one of many first responders, who had been assigned to Something in the Water all weekend. Rigolo recalled rushing to the disaster zone.

He told 13News Now how an incident response playbook kicked in, including activating a strike team, establishing a command post, coordinating searches and watching out for gas leaks. 

"Then, we understood where we needed to focus our house-to-house searches based upon the amount of the damage and impact we saw," said Rigolo.

He described responding to the Great Neck area Sunday evening as surreal. 

Rigolo mentioned how some firefighters, newer on the team, had never responded to anything like the scene they did Sunday night.

However, Rigolo and other members serve on Virginia Task Force 2, a FEMA urban search and rescue team, which will typically deploy to major natural disaster incidents.

"We see that wide-area destruction like that, but never in Virginia Beach," said Rigolo, also a task force leader with VATF-2. "I've been on the FEMA team many, many years. In 2021, I operated at the tornadoes in Kentucky and we saw a lot of devastation there. What we saw here compared to that, just widespread damage."

Rigolo said members of VBFD already wrapped up operations in the area. One thing firefighters did Monday specifically was pull debris out of the water.

However, they will respond again to the affected neighborhoods, as needed, moving forward.

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