WORCESTER — Leslie and Patrick Courtney had planned to fire up the gas grill on Monday to celebrate Labor Day with a barbecue for family and friends.
Instead, their friends showed up with chain saws and a pickup truck to help the couple clean up debris left by a brief but powerful tornado that struck late Sunday, uprooting trees, crushing at least one car, and heavily damaging homes.
A giant oak tree, estimated to be about 75 years old, was felled by the tornado, whose winds reached up to 85 miles per hour.
“It sounded like a loud pop,” said Leslie Courtney, 45, recalling the sound of the uprooted oak. “It sounded like it popped the asphalt up.”
The front and back porches of their 1886 Victorian home were destroyed. The copper roof on the front porch of the pumpkin-colored home was partially torn.
“It peeled up like a can,” Patrick Courtney, 50, said as he stared in disbelief at the damaged porch roof.
The sounds of chain saws and wood chippers filled the humid air in Worcester Monday as residents cleaned up. The twister hit around 8:15 p.m and lasted about four minutes. Most of the damage was confined to houses in the Grafton, Union, and Vernon hill neighborhoods, officials said.
“The good news is that most of the damage is localized,” City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said, standing outside the Courtney home Monday morning. “It’s a house here, a tree there. It’s a huge cost and inconvenience for the homeowners, but overall it could have been much worse.”
Dozens of workers from the city’s forestry and public works departments were busy clearing branches, trees, and other debris throughout the night and most of Monday. A top priority was to remove limbs and brush from sidewalks by Tuesday, when students return to Worcester schools.
“We brought in everybody [city workers] who would have been off today,” Augustus said. “My big thing is to get the sidewalks cleared. . . . I don’t want [schoolchildren] walking in the streets.”
US Representative James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat, toured the affected area with city officials. He said it was too soon to say if the city will qualify for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We’ll have to figure out whether the damage [totals] are enough for FEMA,” McGovern said. “We’ll certainly try to help in any way we can . . . I think we’re all just grateful that nobody was injured.”
The National Weather Service office in Taunton rated the storm in its least severe category in terms of wind speed. The tornado, which traveled just under 2 miles, was the first to touch down in the city since Aug. 31, 1966, according to the service.
“Something like this is relatively rare,” said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist at the agency.
‘The good news is that most ofthe damage is localized. It’s a house here, a tree there.’
Simpson said Sunday’s tornado was not as powerful as the one that struck Revere last month, causing widespread damage.
The Worcester tornado touched down near Perry Avenue and Fairfax Road, just east of Interstate 290. Traveling northeast, the tornado cut a path for nearly 1.7 miles, with maximum winds of 85 miles per hour, before ending on Gordon Street, according to the weather service. The twister struck with little warning, alarming residents of New England’s second-largest city.
“We’ve had hurricanes,” said Mayor Joseph M. Petty. “We had the ice storm in ’08 where we lost half of the trees in the city. . . . But nothing like this.”
James Riendeau, a Euclid Avenue homeowner, agreed.
“This isn’t anything I’ve ever seen in my 48 years living in Worcester,” said Riendeau who was out walking with his two dogs and sons Matt, 11, and James, 5, on Monday afternoon.
“It was wicked big,” Patrick Courtney said of the storm that felled the tree in his front yard. “You should have seen the rain. It was really something. I went outside for like 10 seconds and got so wet it looked like I jumped into a pool.”
“We’re in the house with my grandkids, and all of a sudden the wind kind of roared through, and the rain was horizontal. And the trees were really shaking,” Susan Buss, 63, who lives on Windham Street, said by telephone Monday.
The storm downed about 10 utility poles, initially knocking out power to about 400 homes. But by midday Monday, the number had been reduced to 200, Augustus said.
“Verizon and National Grid have been working together to restore the poles,” Augustus said. “Getting power restored to everyone is a priority for us.”
Raymond Powers, 66, who owns two homes on Windham Street, was working with a National Grid crew Monday afternoon to reconnect power lines.
“It ripped the service right off the houses,” he said.Kathy McCabe
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