Storm Damage in Newburgh

Marla Diamond/WCBS 880

5 Killed During Tuesday's Powerful Storms; 3 Tornadoes Hit Area

May 16, 2018 - 12:21 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — Powerful storms pounded the Tri-State area on Tuesday with torrential rain and marble-sized hail, and three tornado touchdowns in Orange and Putnam counties.

The storms left at least five people dead and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power.

The National Weather Service confirmed Wednesday afternoon that a tornado hit the Putnam County community of Kent during the storm. The twister was an EF-2 on the Fujita scale – with estimated winds of up to 110 mph.

The storm prediction center said such tornadoes can cause considerable damage – tearing roof off well-constructed homes, shifting foundations of frame homes, destroying trailers and mobile homes completely, snapping and uprooting trees, and lifting cars off the ground.

Another tornado, this one an EF1 with winds of 100 mph, hit the Putnam County community of Patterson on Tuesday, the National Weather Service reported.

A third tornado – an EF0 with 85 mph winds – also touched down in Newburgh in Orange County, the NWS said.

Connecticut officials said a man was killed when a tree fell on his truck in New Fairfield, and in Danbury, a man who had taken refuge to escape the storm was killed when a tree fell on his truck. A teenager also suffered serious injuries when he was hit by the roof of a dugout on a baseball field, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said.

An 11-year-old girl was killed when a large tree toppled onto the car she was in on Robinson Avenue in Newburgh. Police said the girl and her mother had arrived home and were unloading the car when strong winds knocked the tree onto the vehicle. The mother suffered minor injuries. Elsewhere in Orange County, a woman was killed when a tree fell onto her car around 6 p.m.

The storm was also blamed for the death of an 80-year-old woman in Ramapo, Rockland County.

The Brookfield Police Department said on its Facebook page that First Selectman Steve Dunn had "declared a town disaster."

"We ask that you remain indoors for the duration of this evening, until we can better assess damages tomorrow," police in the Connecticut town urged residents. "Please be aware that there are hundreds of downed trees, utility poles and electrical lines."

The storms downed trees and power lines across the region. Several lightning strikes led to structure fires in New Jersey. Roads in many towns were impassible and some schools canceled classes on Wednesday due to the damage.

"It was crazy. It was outrageous, something like in the movies, when the rain, you could barely see driving," said Rob Williams, a taxi driver.

On Liberty Street in Newburgh, an entire roof blew off an apartment building owned by Drew Cartagainer.

"It was one of the first buildings renovated in this part of the area," he said. "We can fix the building. Nobody got hurt, so we'll fix the building."

The storm also left behind a huge mess in parts of northern New Jersey. John Matos was in his apartment on High Street in Montclair when around 5 p.m., the skies blackened and the storm blew in.

“It came out of nowhere, and it was just like crazy, like, I'm just hearing ‘Boom!’ and, ‘Crash!’ and then two humongous loud booms. Transformer boxes came down,” he said. “This tree got to be at least 70 feet, hit the, you know, the middle of the street.”

The trees also pulled down utility lines. PSE&G cordoned off the block.

“It was just a mess. I got up this morning – branches. There's a hole in the roof now. There's still a big branch. It's… just amazing what happened with this weather,” Matos said.

Elsewhere in New Jersey, the winds ripped the roof off a daycare in Passaic. No one was injured.

Fire also sprung from transformers in Ho-Ho-Kus, and fallen trees closed routes 46, 287, 17, and 208.

Meanwhile, airlines canceled and delayed flights in and out of the region. Thousands of commuters were stranded in Grand Central Terminal after Metro-North temporarily suspended service due to downed trees on the tracks. Concourses were packed with passengers waiting for service to resume.

Most of the trains were running by the morning, but only the New Haven line has full service  end to end. The Hudson line has a full schedule from Croton-Harmon to Grand Central, and on the Harlem line regular service is running from White Plains to Grand Central. There is no Harlem line service above Southeast and Metro North says "limited" service is running above north White Plains. On the Hudson line, a reduced schedule will run between Poughkeepsie and Croton-Harmon.

Expect cancellations and crowded trains with extra stops.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Twitter Tuesday night that he was declaring a state of emergency in Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Sullivan counties and "deploying members of the New York National Guard to assist with recovery operations."

Roughly 157,000 outages were without power Wednesday in the lower Hudson Valley. Thousands of utility workers were working feverishly to restore power. 

NYSEG spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in the midday hours that outages were down to about 70,000 in north suburban and near upstate counties.

“Our hardest hit counties upstate are Westchester, Putnam, Sullivan, and Orange counties, where we had a total of more than 92,000 customers that were impacted by this powerful thunderstorm that pelted the area yesterday,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz said there was no time estimate available for when the remaining 70,000 customers would be restored.

“In Dutchess County, they saw winds in excess of 78 miles an hour, you know, winds topping around 65, you know, miles an hour in Putnam and Westchester counties,” Ortiz said, “so I think the majority of customers do understand that, you know, we’re working hard. We have our crews out there. We actually deployed more than 1,500 personnel. They’re hard at work to restore power for these customers, with more on the way.”

Cuomo was not pleased with the situation.

"I no longer accept from the utility companies the excuse, 'Well this is worse than anything we've seen.' I've heard that 10 times, every situation is worse than we've ever seen. They get paid, it's their responsibility to handle the emergencies," Cuomo said.

A line of intense thunderstorms packing heavy rain, hail and strong wind gusts wreaked havoc rushed in Tuesday afternoon, disrupting the evening rush hour commute, knocking out power to thousands, downing trees and sending construction materials flying off buildings.

The sky over the city turned black as the storm, which prompted tornado watches and warnings in Conecticut and upstate counties, rolled in.

Hail the size of baseballs were reported near Saugerties, New York.

On the Robert F. Kennedy Triborough Bridge, visibility was low and the lights in Manhattan could barely be seen with the low cloud cover, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.

In East Elmhurst, Queens, a food cart jumped about a foot – and dust, dirt, debris and garbage – flew through the air as the storm blew in.

Trees were coming down in the strong wind gusts. One Twitter user even reported that the wind brought down the top of a rooftop water tank.

On Bedford Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a metal construction frame fell from a roof in the wind.

WCBS 880 Traffic reported Route 46 eastbound was shut down in Clifton before Van Houten Avenue, where poles and wires came down and started an electrical fire.

The National Weather Service will visit areas where locals believe tornadoes touched down. It's a big territory to cover with twister claims from Port Jervis to Connecticut. One tornado was confirmed to have hit at 3:30 p.m. in Sullivan County.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)