Witnesses describe Cape storm damage: ‘The winds started spiraling out of control’
YARMOUTH — A crowd of guests staying at the Cape Sands Inn gathered outside the building Tuesday afternoon as officials and workers shifted through the wreckage of their rooms.
The roof on one side of the inn was torn off the building into the air earlier in the day, due to the severe weather, leaving guests here shaken but unscathed.
A tornado reportedly touched down Tuesday in Harwich and South Yarmouth, as wind gusts reached up to 110 miles per hour, leaving thousands in the region without power when scores of trees and electrical lines came down, officials said.
Guests were shepherded out of their rooms by inn staff once the driving winds and rain subsided, and were waiting to learn what had happened to their belongings.
Jason Couse, 36, of Belchertown and his family were inside their second-floor room at the inn around 11:30 a.m. when he said he heard the wind howling and rain started coming down in buckets.
“The next thing we knew, the roof was just lifted up . . . like a blanket,” he said. “The scariest thing I’ve ever been through.”
They ran into the bathroom and got into the bathtub, he said. A few minutes later, a hotel worker came to bring them downstairs.
Waiting outside with his 11-year-old daughter, Mya, who was draped in a towel, Couse said he was waiting to find out what had been salvaged from his room.
“We’re cold, we have no jackets or anything,” he said.
Diane Martin, 63, was staying at Cape Sands Inn to celebrate her one-year wedding anniversary with her husband. They were driving in when the National Weather Service issued the tornado warning and barely made it to their room before it hit.
“I’ve never actually seen the roof fly off before — it was terrifying,” said Martin, whose room faced the side of the inn where the roof flew off.
“Trees behind the building were all just blowing hard that way, and so was the flag. And then it went real calm for a second, and then the wind just turned and whipped the other way.”
That’s when the roof flew off the east side of the inn, and Martin said the wind blew the flagpole almost to the ground.
Bobby Khan, who owns the family-run Cape Sands Inn with his two nephews, said he was brushing his teeth this morning when he learned the eastside roof of his inn flew off. He just redid the now-detached roof last year.
“Now everything’s just gone,” Khan, 42, said. He’s used to tornadoes from his home in Bangladesh but didn’t expect it in Massachusetts.
“We had some guests from Wisconsin, and they have a lot of tornadoes, and I was just calming them down, ‘Hey, in Massachusetts we don’t get much of a tornado -- we get hurricanes and blizzards. But here you go -- I think it’s karma showing me,” Khan joked.
“Just hope for the best -- I’m glad that no one got hurt. Money can be made, property can be built, but nobody got hurt. That’s the ultimate.”
Khan was relieved that check out time at Cape Sands Inn is at 11, so only three rooms of the 19 on that wing of his inn were occupied when the roof flew off.
He took over the inn in January 2017 after selling his family’s convenience store. Khan said he thought owning an inn would have been more stable.
“Last night, I had our guests come downstairs, stay in the lobby -- anywhere in the ground floor,” Khan said, thinking that would be the worst of the tornado.
“All of a sudden, the roof flew off this morning -- I wasn’t ready for it -- I didn’t get any alert. All of a sudden, this came from the middle of nowhere.”
His entire inn was fully booked at the time, so he is working to figure out accommodations for his guests. Many are staying at the inn next door -- the two owners are friends.
Suzanne Chase, who was also staying at the inn, brought her two grandchildren to the Cape for what was meant to be a fun outing to celebrate her 74th birthday.
Instead, it became a birthday she’s “never going to forget.”
The family was in Chatham when driving rains and winds started around 11:30 a.m. They were trying to get back to their car when a tree branch fell and nearly hit 16-year-old Daniel Chase.
“It was scary, ‘cause I could hear the cracking, so I tried to go under the tree pretty fast,” he said.
Daniel, his sister Taliah, and their grandmother took shelter in the basement of a nearby store while they waited for the storm to pass.
“You couldn’t see in front of you, the rain was so blinding,” Suzanne Chase said.
Still, they feel lucky — they weren’t in their rooms when the roof blew off.
“We feel very fortunate we weren’t there,” Suzanne Chase said.
Megan McGuire, who was also staying at the inn, shot video of firefighters who responded to the inn after the roof tore off. She shared the video on Twitter.
“Cape Sands Inn was hit by something,” she tweeted. “We were staying for a short vacation. My mother and I are fortunately okay.”
Purvish Patel, who owns Tidewater Inn next door, is taking in some of the residents from Cape Sands. He’s friends with Khan, though Khan said he’s footing the bills for all necessary arrangements.
“We just lost power, because they shut them down, because they took all the live wires off the roof and everything,” Patel said as his team cleaned up the debris in the Tidewater Inn parking lot.
“Trees, limbs, anything’s down, paint we’ll fix anything that’s broken -- normal maintenance stuff,” Patel said of work that needs to be done. “We just get it ready looking non-tornado free.”
Residents and tourists on the Cape marveled at the strength of the winds.
Yvonne Lucier, 34, of Holden, was at the Chatham Orpheum Theater watching “The Lion King” when the power went out. “Every phone in the theater had the emergency alert to take shelter now,” she said. “The winds were whipping sideways, we stayed in the stairwell of the theater until it passed.”
Lucier said the wind was “very, very loud” and there were “quite a few scary moments,” but overall people remained calm.
Misty Muscatel Davis, 36, was out running errands when she heard about the tornado warning. When she returned to her home in South Yarmouth, it was barely drizzling. But then the weather quickly changed.
“The winds started spiraling out of control,” she said. “It was crazy.”
The large inflatable pool that she had in her yard flew up in the air and across the yard and then smashed into the fence. The rain was so heavy it was like buckets of water pouring down.
“The skies opened up like someone turned on a faucet in the sky,” she said. “It came on so suddenly.”
Her home is located on the Bass River, and when she looked outside and saw a waterspout forming, she captured it on video. Her niece then shared the video on Twitter.
After the winds died down, “the clouds broke and blue skies came out above,” she said. “It was a little bit eerie.”
She lost power, and her patio furniture was strewn everywhere. But otherwise there was no damage.
She said it was “way more intense” than Hurricane Bob, which hit back in 1991.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.