VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Toni Cortellini and her husband weren’t home Sunday night when a tornado hit their Virginia Beach neighborhood.

“My phone started blowing up. ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Where are you?”

That’s when her neighbor finally called to say her home appeared to be destroyed – so she rushed home.

“In your wildest nightmares, you don’t think a tornado in Virginia Beach is going to take your house,” she said.

But this nightmare is Toni Cortellini’s reality.

She arrived home to find the house she’s lived in for decades – where she raised her kids – was torn apart. The roof was blown off, exposing her bedroom to the world, and her two dogs were rescued from the destruction. But many of her memories were wiped away by the rainwater, though she did manage to salvage some.

“On my dressing table I had pictures of my family, and the one picture frame I always put jewelry on. My husband found it today. Any keepsake you find, it means so much,” she said.

Stories like this are what have made the week difficult for Assistant Fire Chief Jack Crandall. In his 36 years with the fire department, he said he’s never seen anything like this.

“The thing that really bothers me is the personal belongings,” he said.

“We were at a house the other day – the kids’ drum set was in the front yard,” he said. “The stuffed animals, that kind of thing is personal. The stuff is destroyed.”

The Cortellinis are staying with family while they figure out what to do next. They are looking for semi-permanent housing while they rebuild their house, but it’s proving difficult to find a place that will accept both their dogs. Still, they’re certain about one thing: They don’t want to leave the neighborhood behind.

“We had been thinking about moving, downsizing,” she said. “But I feel like we’re meant to stay here,” she said.