REVERE — A rare tornado roared through this seaside city with terrifying force Monday, uprooting hundreds of trees, ripping roofs off houses, and spurring an intensive recovery effort that could last weeks.
Carrying winds as high as 120 miles per hour, the powerful storm cut a destructive path through Revere's central business district. It damaged more than 100 homes and turned a quiet residential neighborhood into a scene of stunned confusion in just a few minutes.
The first tornado to hit Suffolk County in at least 60 years, the twister snapped large oak trees and sent large sections of metal guardrails flying through the air, but no serious injuries were reported, officials said.
"Given the magnitude of the storm, it's really a miracle," said Mayor Dan Rizzo.
Officials said it was too soon to put a dollar figure on the damage, but insurers were going door to door to help residents tally their losses. Within an hour of the tornado, residents were out collecting branches and sweeping up debris, while utility crews began the painstaking work of clearing roads and repairing downed wires.
The tornado struck as severe thunderstorms swept through much of the Boston area, causing flash flooding from Framingham to the North Shore.
It touched down just after 9:30 a.m. in Chelsea and moved north across the Chelsea River into Revere, ripping a path 2 miles long and nearly a half-mile wide.
The speed and scope of the damage, which covered the neighborhood in debris, left many residents dazed.
"Are we in Kansas?" asked Judy Lane-Grech, 54. She said the tornado arrived so quickly, she hardly had time to take cover as the windows on her Taft Street home smashed around her. "It happened so fast," she said.
On Revere Beach Parkway, which was blocked by a tangle of trees, poles, and metal railings, Jose Quintana, 27, said the winds shook his entire house and uprooted large trees. Seconds later, the winds were gone.
"Ten seconds, max," he said, making sure his children stayed close. "It was just surreal."
Late Monday night, Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty said cleanup crews were expected to continue their work overnight.
He said 65 homes had "substantial damages" and 13 homes and businesses were uninhabitable. The city set up a shelter at a local school for displaced residents.
Jake Navarro, a spokesman for National Grid, said that 500 homes were without power as of 9:30 p.m.
Outages peaked during the morning, with over 3,000 homes affected, but as utility crews continued repairs, Navarro said, power was expected to be restored to the majority of customers by midnight Monday.
Emergency officials canvassed the area, saying the recovery would take time, and urged residents to be patient.
"This is going to be a little bit of a process as we try to dig ourselves out of this," Rizzo said.
He said the timing of the tornado was fortuitous, since many people already had left their homes for work. He said a baby sustained a minor injury from flying glass, and an elderly woman also suffered a laceration.
In certain areas, most houses sustained some damage.
"Pick a street," Deputy Fire Chief Michael Viviano said.
Throughout the afternoon, crews hauled large trees into chippers, filling the street with the smell of sawdust. Up and down debris-strewn streets, residents took stock of the damage and began the daunting task of cleaning up.
"I don't even know where to start," said Steve Capano, who rushed home from work after hearing about the storm. "It looks like a war zone."
Across the street, two large pieces of metal lay on the sidewalk. They had blown across the highway from the roof of an ice skating rink, neighbors said.
No tornado had hit Suffolk County, which comprises Revere, Boston, Winthrop, and Chelsea, since weather officials began keeping records in 1950, according to the National Weather Service. The last confirmed tornadoes in Essex County, north of Boston, and Middlesex County, north and west of Boston, were in 1991 and 1986, respectively.
In 2011, a tornado tore through Central Massachusetts, killing three people and damaging 1,400 buildings across the region.
Monday's storm also dumped as much as 2 inches of rain per hour in some parts of the region.
In Boston, several people were trapped in their cars by floodwaters on Spring Street, and police in Wellesley rescued a man from his car on Route 9.
"The man was standing on top of his car, which was in four feet of water," said Wellesley Police Lieutenant Scott Whittemore.
In Revere, the tornado arrived with frightening speed and force. Nicole DeFeo was at the drug store when she heard a long bang, followed by screams.
"People were screaming, 'What's going on?' " DeFeo said.
"One lady ran in crying, another woman ran in saying she got hit in the head with a metal plate, and another guy was screaming because he left his kid in the car."
At Master Auto on Broadway, co-owner Anthony Cincone was walking into his office when the storm peeled off the roof and blew it away.
"It was scary, because you didn't know when it was going to stop," he said. "Within 20 seconds, the wind picked up and you just heard this howling; you could see everything moving . . . glass shattering, flying everywhere."
Carol Cappola, 71, said she was sipping her coffee when "everything went dark" and her house began to shake. A deafening roar filled the air, followed by the sound of glass shattering.
"It sounded like a bomb," she said. "It was so scary. I didn't know what was happening."
As the wind intensified, Gerry Iovanna looked out her front door to see tree limbs flying through the air.
"I've seen a lot of storms and I've seen a lot of damage," said Iovanna, whose house was struck by a falling tree. "But I've never seen this."
Iovanna, 59, said the tornado seemed to arrive out of nowhere and turned the sky an ominous gray. Worried about flying glass, she retreated to the hallway, where she huddled on the floor until the storm passed.
"It was really scary," she said, blinking back tears and falling into her brother's waiting embrace.
"We'll get through this," he said.
After the storm, Elaine Hardy, 75, walked out back to see the damage. The storm had left its mark but had largely spared her house, and her statue of the Virgin Mary.
"She protected me," she said.