National Weather Service Confirms Two Tornadoes Struck Four CommunitiesThe Hartford Courant — Nicholas Rondinone, Matthew Ormseth and Mikaela Porter and Bill Leukhardt The Hartford Courant
May 16--The National Weather Service said late Wednesday that Tuesday's killer storm included two separate tornadoes that struck four Connecticut communities -- Beacon Falls, Hamden, Oxford and Southbury.
Other towns, including Brookfield, were hit with macrobursts packing "maximum wind speeds of 100-110 mph," according to the NWS.
Two people were killed and residents throughout the state spent Wednesday morning sifting through damaged homes and businesses, recounting harrowing stories of how they endured the quick-moving storm that sent gusting winds, drenching rain and hail as big as baseballs.
The weather service said teams were dispatched Wednesday to survey damage in Brookfield, Danbury, New Milford, Newtown, Oxford, Ridgefield, Southbury, Winsted, Bethany, Hamden, Cheshire and Durham.
"It has been determined that an EF1 tornado with estimated peak winds of 110 mph moved along a 9.5 mile path between Beacon Falls and Hamden. Numerous trees were uprooted along this path," the weather service said in a press statement.
The tornado that struck Southbury and Oxford traveled along a 4.5 mile path and had winds that reached 100 mph.
The NWS said it will release its final assessment Thursday.
As of 10:15 p.m. Wednesday, more than 71,000 customers were without power, according to Eversource. The towns with the most outages were Bethany, Southbury, Seymour, New Fairfield and Brookfield.
In Danbury's Candlewood Lake section, a man was killed after he took refuge from the storm in his truck and a tree fell on the vehicle, Mayor Mark Boughton said. A state police spokeswoman said a 41-year-old woman died when a tree fell on her car on Brush Hill Road in New Fairfield. A 3-year-old child inside the car survived. Officials closed roads as emergency crews rushed to calls of wires and trees fallen on cars and roadways. They said the clean up could take several days.
Travel in several of the hardest hit communities was impossible in some places where debris and downed trees covered the roadways. Many roads were closed throughout the day Wednesday as emergency crews rushed to calls of downed live wires and large trees on cars. They said the clean up could take several days.
On Wednesday night Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a Declaration of Civil Preparedness Emergency to assist the state and its municipalities with response and recovery efforts.
The emergency order will give state agencies flexibility in assisting municipalities to respond to and recover from the damages from the storms. In addition, the Governor has directed emergency management officials to begin the initial evaluation process to determine whether the federal thresholds to request a Major Disaster Declaration from President Trump can be met, which could permit the state and its eligible municipalities to receive federal aid that can offset some of the costs of debris removal and restoration.
"Yesterday's storms caused a lot of damage to infrastructure, public facilities, and private property," Malloy said. "We have already begun the process to collect damage costs. This declaration will provide our state and municipal agencies with additional authority to help residents in the affected towns to expedite debris removal and deal with the ongoing restoration efforts."
In the neighborhood just east of and above Candlewood Lake, the day after a suspected tornado swept through, ripping the tops off massive trees or toppling them, neighbors worked together to begin the cleanup.
In some cases, there was only so much people could do.
On Elbow Hill Road, Bob and Deborah Marks watched as some contractors worked to cut branches off a massive oak tree that was uprooted and fell on their house. In the backyard, every tree appeared to be down.
Bob Marks went to work Wednesday morning with a reciprocating saw to try to clear a path for his dog to run outside. "How much can you do with a Sawzall?" he said.
His goal Wednesday was to get the tree off the roof to ease the stress on the damaged structure. A crane was reported on the way to lift the tree, more than two feet across at its base. The Marks' insurance company told them to get a hotel, but Bob Marks said the available rooms are too far off so he's planning to stay home.
He pointed out the damage inside and outside the house, including a joists that punched through the ceiling in the master bedroom. There's damage elsewhere in the house too.
"We've got to tarp it up and see if we can secure it somehow," he said. And then he gazed out the back window at the devastation behind the house. He just looked and said nothing.
Marks and his wife were both home when the storm hit. Deborah Marks was out in the garage, but could not make it back to the house because the storm was so violent. Bob Marks said he ran to close a window as the rain began.
"All of a sudden I heard the crash," he said. "The whole house shook."
In the garage, Deborah Marks said she kept hearing "pops." She said she thought they were electrical wires.
"It was the trees coming down -- every tree in my backyard," she said. "It happened in seconds."
As she watched the workmen attack the massive tree, she was in relatively good spirits. "I always wanted a skylight in my bedroom," she said.
A 100 or so yards south of the Marks house, the residents of Woodview Drive were attacking the mess the storm left behind. Their road was blocked in two places Tuesday night, but Jesse Ricciardi and a friend cut back some downed trees to allow one car to pass.
Wednesday morning, Justin Luis cut the fallen trees back some more to widen the road further, then moved about 40 yards east two attack a tangle of three trees that fell across Woodview and were blocking Mario Paxinos' driveway. He was joined by several neighbors who hauled away the logs and branches as he cut them.
"He put some chewing tobacco in his mouth, started the saw and went to it," Rick Garofalo said of Luis, a neighbor he met for the first time Wednesday. "He's the man."
"This is a wonderful thing,' Paxinos said. "It's what neighbors are all about."
Garofalo was home when the storm came through and he's convinced a tornado ripped through his neighborhood heading northwest to southeast.
"It was the classic freight train sound," he said. "You could hear it roaring through like it was coming through your house. The next sound was trees cracking."
Garofalo said he tried to watch the storm from his open garage, but ran into the house. "I've never been scared like that," he said. It was incredible. It was just surreal."
And just like that, the storm was over, Garofalo said. "It was over in five minutes," he said.
Paxinos said he arrived home from work just as the storm hit. He said he pulled his car into his driveway and the trees fell right behind him.
"I opened the door and ran inside the house," he said. "I did not know about those power lines."
He was grateful to his neighbors for helping to clear the road and his driveway.
Luis, the man with the saw, said after clearing some trees further up the street, he saw the cluster of fallen trees by Paxino's house and realized many in the neighborhood were trapped.
"They're locked in. That's not fair," Luis said. Trees fell in his yard on Horseshoe Drive, but they aren't blocking anything and can wait, he said. "I'll get it so cars can get through."
Hildy Ricciardi said she knew a big storm was coming, but was stunned by what she saw. Outside "you couldn't see. It was brown wind." She went to her basement for shelter. "I kept hearing bangs," she said. She thought it was a loose storm door, but it turned out to be trees coming down. One hit her house, but she said she doesn't think the damage is too serious.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, people in cars were stranded because of downed trees. A young mother with her two children pulled onto Woodview Drive and into Ricciardi's driveway. She went out to the car and asked if everyone was OK. They were shaken, but physically OK.
A moment later they knocked at Ricciardi's door and she invited them in. They stayed about three hours.
They talked, changed the baby's diaper and waited for Candlewood Lake Road to be cleared so they could continue on their way home.
"I gave them a glass of wine because they needed it," Ricciardi said.
Jerry Paulinsky was outside with friends and relatives clearing the fallen limbs from his yard. In the back, he looked at his 18-foot boat. A large oak branch fell and crushed it. His friend joked that he was going to offer to buy it, but figured the price should now be lower.
Paulinsky laughed. "My attitude is the boat can be replaced, people cannot."
Down on Horseshoe Drive Lynn Dostilio was sweeping the front of her house. The storm shredded leaves and plastered them to anything its way -- houses, cars, sheds. "Well, I can get a little bit off before it hardens and dries and before the sun bakes it on," she said. For the shredded leaves higher up, she said she figured she'd need a power washer.
Brandy Smith and her 8-year-old daughter Brianna rode out the storm in their basement. "All we heard was thump, thump, thump and we felt thump, thump, thump," she said, although she could not figure out what made the noise.
Trees fell, but none hit the house.
"We're very lucky," Joshua Smith said. "It could have been a lot worse." He said he was on the phone with his wife as he drove home and he thought she was exaggerating about the storm's strength.
"When I got home I apologized," he said.
On Cheshire's Sorghum Mill Drive, Carol Skowronski had just put a "for sale" sign outside her home of 42 years before a tree came crashing through the second floor into the master bedroom.
"If anyone had been in this bed they'd be dead," she said during an interview Wednesday while standing in the bedroom. She was still taking in the devastation early Wednesday.
"How ironic -- I just put it on the market," Skowronski said. "I'm heartbroken."
Eversource officials said early Wednesday that they were bringing in crews from New Hampshire and across Massachusetts to assist the full complement of Connecticut-based crews. They said the company was also taking on additional tree contractors to clean roads.
"We are estimating a multiple-day restoration day here," said Frank Poirot, a company spokesman. "With 84,000 people still without power, we've got a lot of work ahead of us."
More than a dozen state roads were closed by downed wires through the day on Wednesday, officials said.
At a news conference at the Brookfield Police Department at noon, Malloy said he expected power outages to last for days.
"If you get it back quickly you're one of the lucky ones," he said. "I think there are going to be a lot of people that are going to be without power for days. ... Everything that can easily be brought back has been, now we're in for a slog."
Malloy said there were at least 1,800 damaged locations that utility crews had to repair.
Malloy, who has overseen the state response to a number of severe weather events, said it would be up to meteorologists to determine whether a tornado touched down.
"I'm not the weather guy but it was very severe weather," he said. "We have had tornado experiences in Connecticut. If it proves to be a tornado that's not an outlier."
The state Department of Transportation held crews over in anticipation of the storm and those crews were able to respond Tuesday night to clear highways and state routes that were blocked by storm debris.
"It's nothing that's not manageable. We've had crews out around the state. There's been different levels of impact as you move around the state," said Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman.
As the storm moved into Connecticut, the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings -- meaning a tornado was occurring or about to occur -- in five of the state's eight counties. The NWS will spend the next few days determining whether a tornado actually hit the state, or if it was simply a violent thunderstorm. Two residents of Brookfield, however, said they thought they saw the funnel of a tornado early Tuesday evening.
The weather service said a rare weather event was recorded Tuesday when the rapid drop in air pressure caused what its known as a "meteotsunami," or a large wave created by this change in weather.
The damage was most severe in the Danbury region, the area of Cheshire, Hamden and the Naugatuck Valley, and state's northeast corner.
In Danbury, a teen was badly injured when he was struck by the roof of a dugout on the baseball field at Henry Abbott Technical High School. Powerful winds apparently peeled the roof off the dugout, Boughton said.
"He's banged up pretty good," Boughton said. "It's very serious."
In Brookfield, a man and woman suffered nonlife threatening injuries when a tree fell on them while they were walking along the Still River Greenway, according to Brookfield First Selectman Stephen C. Dunn. The couple crawled to the nearby police station where they got first aid, but police officials said it took a long time to get them an ambulance as roads were largely blocked.
"It's a real mess," Dunn said Tuesday night of the damage in Brookfield, which prompted him to declare a local emergency. "It's the worst I've ever seen it. There are literally hundreds of trees down, wires down, many roads are impassable. Most of our roads are impassable."
By morning, Dunn said the situation remained dire. He said all of the roads in town had downed wires and that there was a citizen corps in some neighborhoods out with chainsaws to make roads passable.
Police officials said they have 160 personel from roughly 20 agenices in town to help, including the state's Urban Search and Rescue Team, as well as emergency EMS and fire task forces. Many were out through the night checking on the well-being of residents trapped by the downed trees. The DOT dispatched six front-end loaders and three tree crews to help crews access areas of Brookfield, but officials said travel is limited and people should remain in their homes.
"It just came so quickly, all of the sudden it go dark and super, suiper windy," said Amanda Koschell of Woodview Drive. When it started, she took her 4-month-old infant into the basement. When they came back up after the storm passed, the damage was apparent.
"We went upstairs and all we could see was green everywhere," Koschell said of discovering a tree in the living room and kitchen.
Debbie Demander was with her husband and son Lars in a greenhouse on their farm when the storm hit in Bethany Tuesday evening.
The farm, Clover Nook Farm, has been in the family's name for 253 years. Two barns have been leveled because of different storms, including what the family calls their storage barn -- the horse barn.
Debbie Demander, the seventh generation farmer, said they saw the warning for the storm and the three went out to batten down some of the tarp flaps of the greenhouse. Another greenhouse next lifted up and landed on the corner of the one they were in.
As they ran across Fairwood Road to their home, Debbie said she saw the barn starting to lean and then fell.
Lars said he fell down in the yard and was dragged "like a rag doll."
Another barn on the farm was leveled from a hurricane in 1938, Debbie said. In addition to the barn, a chicken coop was dragged and destroyed -- the chicken and other animals, including beef cattle, lambs and goats were all OK, they said. "It's gonna be a long summer," Lars said. "It's a bad way to start the growing season."
On Sorghum Mill Drive in Cheshire, a tree fell into a house, crashing through the two-car garage. Noel and Chris Fletcher have lived in the home for more than six years, and though they've had other storms through the area, Noel Fletcher said "nothing has caused this much damage."
Noel Fletcher was home with her daughter at the time of the storm, when the sky turned "pitch black" around 5:15 p.m. The two went to their basement and that's when Noel heard what she thinks was the large tree land on their garage.
Cheshire police Chief Neil Dryfe said some of his officers ferried firefighters into a Hamden neighborhood in a police cruiser to respond to a propane leak, because the fallen trees and lines made bringing in a truck impossible.
Dryfe said about 20 streets were "totally impassable."
"It's as bad as I've seen it here since that October snowstorm five or six years back," he said.
In Hamden, emergency crews found roads so impassable they resorted to using TV vehicles to respond to medical calls, Mayor Curt Leng said. "We are having many, many issues throughout town," he wrote in an email. Busy Route 10 was closed in both directions, halting traffic through the morning rush hour.
Route 10 in northern Hamden was swamped with trees limbs and power lines sagging from utility poles knocked crooked by Tuesday's winds.
Hamden police had blocked off about a half mile of the road as utility crews sought to first power down the drooping lines and then untangle them from the trunks, brush and limbs that littered the road. The roadway smelled like a Christmas tree lot as workers sawed the debris into manageable chunks. In front of one home, four shattered stumps were all that remained of a stand of pine.
Lorraine Denaro, 61, emerged from the thicket around noon, having walked about two miles from her home. Like all of the homes in her neighborhood, Denaro's is without power. She and her boyfriend had come home around 5:15 Tuesday when a gust of wind toppled a tree in her yard; the tree crumpled her Subaru crossover just one minute after they'd gotten out of the car, she said.
"If we'd been in that car one more minute -- if I'd gone back for my bag, or something -- I think we would've been crushed."Because the debris and live wires made driving impossible, Denaro said all of her neighbors were walking around Tuesday evening, in a daze.
Gary Lessor, chief meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University's Weather Center, said two lines of powerful thunderstorms moved into Connecticut Tuesday afternoon. The arrived in Litchfield County about 3 p.m. and moved east toward Granby and Somers, where it weakened. On the way, it dropped damaging hail and rain, with strong winds.
At the height of the storm, 122,000 homes were without power.
A second line of storms moved across Danbury, Brookfield, New Fairfield, Newtown and Southbury and continued east, causing extensive tree and wind damage as it continued through the Naugatuck Valley and into Cheshire, Hamden and Wallingford.
East of Hartford, the storm fronts combined and moved into eastern Connecticut, causing damage as far east as Ashford, Pomfret, Woodstock, Plainfield, Lessor said.
Through the storm, some people in northern Connecticut reported seeing hail the size of baseballs -- a rare occurence in Connecticut. A Norfolk man's windshield was shattered in the process.
Bradley International Airport briefly grounded all flights after evacuating its Air Traffic Control Tower at around 4:30 p.m., but the airport reopened the tower a half-hour later and resumed flight operations.
Metro-North's New Haven Line trains returned to a limited service with heavy delays at about 7:30 p.m. Fallen trees on the Waterbury and Danbury branches caused delays.
In the southwestern corner of the state, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi declared a local emergency at 6 p.m., after the storm knocked down wires and trees -- some of which slammed into homes.
"We have arcing wires everywhere in the road," Marconi said in the evening.
The Danbury-Brookfield area were hit especially hard, and Brookfield resident Michael Zacchea said he felt something strike his car as he drove along Route 133.
He sought shelter at a nearby house, and took refuge under a garage overhang.
"Within about 10 yards of where I was standing, three trees went down," Zacchea said. "In the back a tree went down, hit the house and stove-in the roof."
The wind hurled branches and debris all around him.
"It sounded like a vacuum cleaning -- just a huge whoosh and literally stuff flying," he said.
As fast as the storm came, it was gone. "It only lasted for five minutes but it came so quickly," he said. "All I could see was gray, dark gray, stuff flying."
Courant staff writers David Owens, Mikaela Porter, Bill Leukhardt and Josh Kovner contributed reporting.
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