According to the National Weather Service, the tornado that hit Suffolk, Va., April 28 had estimated winds of 160 mph.
Amazingly, over the tornado’s 10-mi. (16 km) path through the city, there were no fatalities. Reports say approximately 200 injuries occurred in the state of Virginia that day because of the numerous tornados that hit. The storm left behind more than $28.6 million in damages in Suffolk alone. It was rated an F3 on the Fujita scale, which measures, from F0 to F5, the amount of damage a tornado causes.
A strip mall called Freedom Plaza was one of the more visible structures that was destroyed. Anyone entering the city from the Route 460/Route 13 Suffolk Bypass onto Godwin Boulevard would likely see the remains of the 21,300 sq. ft. (1,980 sq m) building.
Previously a brick and prefab structure with steel columns, the tornado left the shopping center with only one side standing. The front façade collapsed and, in other places, the building was stripped down to its metal studs. Most of the roof was torn off, and cars were tossed through the structure’s wall.
The owner of Freedom Plaza, Scott Marlowe of Marlowe Properties, will rebuild. He said his plan is to rebuild “as is” by keeping the slab. The only tentative difference will be the addition of a “false front” facing Godwin Boulevard, as opposed to drivers seeing the rear delivery entrances of the building’s tenants, which was the original design of the building.
“We are still in the early phases of design,” Marlowe said. “The architects are still drawing.”
The businesses in the strip mall that were destroyed include a newly opened pizza restaurant, a nail salon, a barbeque restaurant and a military recruiting office. Most plan to return.
Before anything else, what’s left of the old structure needs to be removed. Marlowe hired Burris Construction Co. of Suffolk, Va., to perform the clearing and demolition of the damaged mall. Burris also will perform site work, like placing pipes, and will work on the parking lot before construction of the new building begins.
Marlowe immediately installed a security fence around the property after the tornado struck. Four days later, Burris was hard at work on the site.
“Having the fence made everything go quickly,” said Burris Construction Owner Robert Burris. The crew cleared the site in just 11 days.
Burris Construction has about six employees, and Burris often operates the equipment himself on his jobs. One may find him transporting material in a dump truck or operating any of his heavy equipment just to keep the job moving along. “We’re a small company,” Burris said.
Burris owns all of his equipment. On this particular job, he is using a Ford 9000 dump truck, a John Deere 544J wheel loader, a Hitachi EX150 LC excavator and a Lull forklift with a man lift attachment.
The dump truck is getting a workout on this job. Burris estimates that he has removed 20 dump truck loads of trash from the site with each load carrying 15 cu. yd. (11.5 cu m) of debris.
Some items, like HVAC equipment, could possibly be reused in the new building.
The scrap metal, which was removed and trucked to a local scrap metal yard, weighed in at roughly 100,000 lbs. (45,400 kg). Burris also is using the dump truck to transport fill from nearby sand pits.
Since Marlowe plans on rebuilding in the same spot, the concrete slab had to be saved.
Burris confirmed, “This job is different [from most jobs] because we had to save the slab.”
Marlowe also wants the sidewalks and parking lots to remain intact.
Saving the slab while trying to demolish an existing structure can be a daunting task, especially when anchor bolts are involved. To prevent ruining the slab, the anchor bolts holding the steel beams had to be disassembled by hand. It is purely manual labor.
“It was tough when taking beams out,” said Burris, “because we were taking out each bolt by hand.” Once the beams were unfastened, the forklift and loader were used to move them.
Burris hopes he will obtain more contracts for tornado cleanup. The damage is extensive; directly behind the strip mall are two neighborhoods where the houses sustained major damage. Additionally, several other neighborhoods spread out all over the city will need assistance in cleaning up and rebuilding.
The small town of Driver, Va., not far away from the strip mall, was hit hard too. The town lost historical buildings that cannot be replaced. One historical building, the Harmony House Antique Shop, lost both sides and its roof. The front and back of the building remain standing, creating the feeling of looking into a big doll house.
Burris has performed demolition work for local municipalities, including the cities of Suffolk, Chesapeake and Portsmouth. His contracts involve demolition of houses and buildings that the cities have condemned. The company performs residential work, too.
Burris has a good reference in Marlowe who stated that Burris is “a great worker and a good man.” CEG