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Special Section~Isabel 2003
War Zone in the Northern Neck
By Nancy W. Vickers

     The trauma experienced with Hurricane Isabel was second only to that of 911. The powerful winds were beginning by noon the day of the storm, and we had done our homework well. Everything at our home was as secure as possible, and water was drawn in case we lost power. It was sad leaving our waterfront home to wait out the storm elsewhere. We knew the lovely 100 foot pine and oak trees around our home were about to be tested by Mother Nature.  

     We waited out the storm at my mother-in-law’s home in Callao, and by 1 p.m. everyone had lost their electricity. By 3 p.m. the howling winds had snapped three of her Bradford pear trees, and the storm was only beginning to take its toll. During the night we wandered around her lovely brick home shining flashlights out the windows at the trees as they violently swayed back and forth. Tornado sounds could not be any louder. My 90-year-old mother-in-law who was raised in Callao said she never in her life had seen winds equaling those if Isabel. At daybreak the winds finally began to die down and we could view the storm’s damage. WRAR newscasters operating on borrowed generator power were amazingly comforting throughout our ordeal. 

     At 8 a.m. we headed back to Coles Point to see if our house and pier were still standing. Tree crews were busy sawing through trees across the roads blocking our progress. Cell phones were priceless connections to our friends and family. My husband, too nervous to wait for the buzzing saws to clear the way for our car, began walking to see our area.  As I rounded the bend, I caught a glimpse of the war zone and my hand went over my mouth in shock. A huge 100’ pine tree had crashed on top of our neighbor’s house. With tears
rolling down my cheeks I dodged small branches and made my way to our driveway in disbelief.  Four huge 100’ trees had fallen in the empty lot next to us and our yard was completely covered with branches and debris. The surge had forced water up the Potomac and Gardner Cove was now up to our patio and nearly around our house. Neighbors had water flowing through their homes, minnows in the living room and soaking wet furniture. 

     A huge pine tree had fallen and was forked up in the branches of an old oak tree hanging precariously over our house! Our son came to our rescue and got the tree down for us freeing us from impending danger and stress.  

     Friends came by to check on us, and curiosity seekers still drive by slowly gazing at the damage. When the Potomac River crested, water inundated the only road leading to the peninsula of beautiful homes. Piers on the Potomac were all destroyed and the boards floated up on nearby lawns. Friends at the end of the peninsula watched as their freezers and furniture floated off down the Cove. Chain link fences were uprooted, boat houses were destroyed and expensive unmanned boats floated off on their own. John boats were used to retrieve possessions that were stuck on the banks dotted with white coolers and other debris.

     The most meaningful experience through all of this trauma was watching the faces of the homeowners as they returned home after the storm. Some walked around in a daze just shocked that their lovely waterfront homes were now waterlogged; others were equally stunned that their homes right on the Potomac escaped any real damage at all.

     The homeowners have really bounced back. Even though piles of water soaked possessions lined their front yards, they were able to have an upbeat attitude and some found humor in the midst of disaster. When our neighbors saw the huge tree on their summer home and standing water in every room, I was touched by their ability to take it all into perspective. They said, “Our families are fine, and that is all that really matters. We can always start again.”

     Contractors are busy making Cherry Grove Beach beautiful again. Email messages have come in handy updating residents with the progress of contractors working on their homes. By next summer our area in the Northern Neck will be back to normal, perhaps, but the memories will last forever.

© 2003 Nancy W. Vickers. All rights reserved.
Contact Nancy Vickers at 


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