Tri-Cities Tornado: Lives lost when tornado hit Colonial Heights Walmart

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- After the August 1993 Tri-Cities tornado destroyed buildings in Olde Towne Petersburg and homes on Pochanontas Island, it crossed the Appomattox River into Colonial Heights. In that city, the tornado hit a shopping center before it touched down at Walmart.

The tornado was considered an F3 tornado at that point, with wind speeds up to 175 miles per hour.

Three people were killed when the tornado hit Walmart.

"After that the building shook and the building came down, that was it, wasn't nothing else to do but close your eyes and pray," one tornado survivor said in a 1993 interview.

A tornado struck the Walmart in Colonial Heights on August 6, 1993.jpeg

"The next thing I know, the roof is caving in and people are running all over the place, they didn't know what was going on," another survivor added.

Shannon Boykin Bumgardner was a 21-year-old Walmart cashier -- on the job just two weeks -- when the tornado touched down.

"If it went a little bit to the left at the Snack Bar, I don't know if I'd even be here," she said in a recent interview. "I look, it looks really dark, come back to my seat and then, the wind just came in, it's like everything just blew and I just went up under the table and I was holding on for dear life."

Ultimately, Shannon was able to walk away from the destruction.

Shannon Boykin Bumgardner in 2018.

"I didn't have to open the door," she said."You just walked straight through."

Outside Walmart newly appointed Colonial Heights Fire Chief A.G. Moore attempted to assess the situation.

"My first memory of rolling up in the parking lot is just knowing I was going to need a whole lot of resources and they're weren't going to get here quick enough for me," he recalled.

What Chief Moore did not know at that moment, was there would be a delay getting those resources because the tornado had not just impacted Colonial Heights.

"The Tri-Cities dealing with all major incidents and needing a lot of the same mutual aid resources to help us bring the incident under control," Chief Moore said. "We had obviously a collapse of the building and had over 100 what we call walking wounded, patients that had a various amount of injuries, some severe, some minor in nature."

All told there were 198 injuries.

"It weighs on you, knowing you need personnel to assist and I can't get them here quick enough to help all these injured people," Moore said.

Mutual Aid eventually arrived in mass from Chesterfield, Prince George County, and even the City of Richmond.

"Something I never ever thought I'd see in my career," he said. "The City of Richmond sent me four Engine Companies to use at my disposal, It's something I'll never forget."

The Tri-Cities tornado not only changed peoples' lives, but also changed the way the Tri Cities responded to emergencies.

"We now have a regional radio system," Chief Moore said.

It also led to the region's first responders doing a better job of training together and updating the response to mass casualty incidents.

"VCU then knows the open beds in the Emergency Rooms and then allow us not to overload one hospital and we're able to take the patient where they can get quick service," Moore said.