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Worcester cleans up after tornado hits city

David Berthiaume took a chainsaw to a giant tree that fell onto the house of his friends, Leslie and Patrick Courtney, on Vernon Street in Worcester.

Chris Christo Photo for The Boston Globe

David Berthiaume took a chainsaw to a giant tree that fell onto the house of his friends, Leslie and Patrick Courtney, on Vernon Street in Worcester.

Worcester residents Monday sought to clean up damage in the aftermath of a tornado that hit the city late Sunday, snapping and uprooting trees and damaging cars and homes in its path. There were no fatalities or injuries reported from the twister, which lasted around 4 minutes and traveled under two miles.

Hardest hit was the Vernon Hill neighborhood, one of the highest of the city’s seven hills.

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“It was wicked big,” homeowner Patrick Courtney, 50, said of the sound of the tornado 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.”

Courtney’s house was one of the most heavily damaged from the storm, sporting a busted chimney and twisted porch.

A copper roof of the front porch, an original fixture since the home was built in 1886, was blown off in the wind.

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“It peeled up like a can,” Courtney said, his voice laced with disbelief.

Other residents said the tornado’s presence was felt Sunday night.

“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,” said Susan Buss, 63, who lives on Windham Street. “I was concerned, but I wasn’t frightened.”

According to the weather service, the tornado touched down near the intersection of Perry Avenue and Fairfax Road, just to the east of Interstate 290. Traveling to the northeast, the tornado cut a path for nearly 1.7 miles, carrying maximum winds of 85 miles per hour, before ending on Gordon Street.

The tornado was an EF0 tornado, which is the least severe in terms of wind speed, according to the weather service.

Still, it proved a landmark event. Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty said he believes the tornado was the first to hit the city since 1953.

“Something like this doesn’t happen very often,” Petty said. “We’ve had hurricanes. We had the ice storm in ‘08 where we lost half of the trees in the city . . . But nothing like this.”

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 police officer said the main roads were mostly passable as of Monday morning.

“My big thing is to get the sidewalks cleared by Tuesday when the kids are going to school,” Augustus said. “I don’t want them walking in the streets.”

He said there were no cost estimates on damage, or an exact count in the amount of homes impacted, officials said.

“We’re still trying to get a handle on totals,” Augustus said as he stood outside 188 Vernon St., where a giant oak tree fell in the front yard.

“The good news is most of the damage seems to be pretty local,” he added. “It seems to be a house here, a tree there.”

A city-owned tree that fell on a house was removed by city crews, and trees at the city’s senior center were uprooted, he said.

Congressman James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat who toured the affected area with city officials, said it’s 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 pre-Labor Day tornado touched down on a weekend when thousands of college students were returning to Worcester colleges, but most campuses were likely spared from damage, Mulvey said.

“Holy Cross would be the closest one to the area (impacted) but I don’t see any calls for assistance,” he said.

About 200 homes were without power as of noon, down from about 400 just after the tornado struck, said City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.

“Our priority now is to get that restored,” Augustus said earlier Monday, adding that Verizon and National Grid were working together after the fierce wind toppled 10 Verizon poles.

Angel Alcoba looked at the damage to his 2007 Dodge Charger in his driveway on Windham Street.

Rick Cinclair/Worcester Telegram & Gazette/Associated Press

Angel Alcoba looked at the damage to his 2007 Dodge Charger in his driveway on Windham Street.

RELATED: Images of Worcester tornado aftermath

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