CAPITAL REGION Driving down her street was no usual task for Janice McGowty on Thursday morning. Once she pulled out of her driveway, she had to stop, get out of her car and move pieces of a tree that were blocking Perry Street.
The tree came down in Wednesday night’s storm, one of countless downed trees in the region. This tree clipped the side of a house at the corner of Turner Avenue.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen this area hit,” McGowty said in the street, which was blocked even farther down by another tree, “because we never get anything like this, usually. This is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
Downed trees were all over the place in Schenectady’s Bellevue neighborhood and elsewhere in the region Thursday, as residents and city and electric crews worked to clean up the mess left by the storm.
While the city of Schenectady may not have received the brunt of a storm system that sent a tornado through parts of Montgomery and Schenectady counties Wednesday night, it still gave city officials plenty to clean up.
The damage in those areas, the National Weather Service said, was caused by straight-line winds. A tornado hit in a line from the town of Florida in Montgomery County into Rotterdam.
In Bellevue, a center of attention was the intersection of Broadway, Fairview Avenue and Fourth Street. There, a large tree took down power lines, and power poles, blocking Fourth Street completely. A second large pine tree was leaning and National Grid crews had to take that tree down, too, cutting from the top and working their way down. By mid-afternoon, both trees were gone.
The city’s Bellevue, Central State Street and Woodlawn neighborhoods were hit the hardest in what officials are calling a “severe weather event” that passed through the city. These areas saw downed trees, downed power lines, road closings and one person driving along Campbell Avenue even had a tree fall on his car. Fortunately, no one was injured during the storm.
“The significant thing was that we went through this event without any personal injuries,” said Mayor Gary McCarthy during a Thursday afternoon news conference at police headquarters. “So we were very fortunate, especially where you see that some of these trees landed on cars and hit houses.”
Almost immediately after the storm struck in the city around 7 p.m. Wednesday, the city set up a unified command center led by Fire Chief Michael Della Rocca to direct members of the police, fire and building departments, as well as National Grid workers and Neighborhood Watch volunteers.
City fire received 80 calls and city police received 84 calls throughout the night. They city provided immediate response to those areas reporting downed power lines or fallen trees creating hazardous situations.
Along a stretch of Wemple, Cedar and Cherry streets in Bellevue, Della Rocca said his men and women responded to about 10 different residences. Also in that neighborhood, every street between Broadway and Campbell Avenue, from Olean Street to Second Avenue, was barricaded because of fallen trees and power lines. Consaul Road in Woodlawn was closed off, as well.
“Our response had 44 Office of General Services employees immediately dispatched with heavy equipment and they worked in a coordinated effort with National Grid crews to identify power lines and make sure things were de-energized so we could go in and remove the trees and debris,” McCarthy said. “It was really an impressive effort throughout the night. Some of the early estimates said that it would be multiple days to deal with the situation just in Bellevue. But by this morning we had most of that taken care of.”
Officials have no estimates yet on the total cost of damage to the city. Building Inspector Eric Shilling said that two or three houses were ordered vacated because of severe damage, but otherwise citywide damage fell on the light side. Some traffic control devices were lost, said McCarthy.
National Grid had to replace more than 100 poles that were either upended or cracked in the storm.
“We had significant damage,” said Tom Wind, of National Grid, at the news conference. “It’s too early to tell on a dollar amount, but it’s a lot.”
National Grid reported a peak of 63,000 customers out of power in upstate New York after Wednesday night’s storms, with about 45,000 of those in the Capital Region, according to company spokesman Patrick Stella. By Thursday evening, about 6,500 customers were without power in Schenectady County, mostly in Rotterdam.
The company had about 300 electric line and tree crews working on getting power back Thursday, with the goal of having most customers back on line by the end of the day today.
“A lot of this had to do with the ground being so wet with some of the rain we had in the last week,” Stella said. “That made the trees even more vulnerable.”
City crews removed more than 800 tons of debris off city streets Thursday to the Cheltingham Avenue tree dump.
Since many residents have yet to clean up debris in their own backyards, McCarthy is temporarily suspending the city’s normal debris collection rules that call for tree branches to be cut down to four feet and bundled before being set out for pickup, among other things.
“Where residents are able to get the tree branches and other storm debris out to the curb, we will pick that up as part of either specialized collections or as part of our normal garbage collection schedule,” he said.
Residents should remain wary, he added, since there could still be downed power lines that crews aren’t aware of. There were also three reported gas leaks Wednesday night, meaning anyone who was out of town during the storm could come home to the same situation.
On Hegeman Street, just off Broadway, Kimberly Willoghby sat in her SUV with her three sons. They were in their apartment house during the storm. They came out to see a tree lying on the back of the house.
“I was really shocked, I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
A cinder block shed was destroyed by another falling tree.
“It was just a rough, rough night,” Willoghby said.
Plenty of vehicles were smashed Wednesday night, as well, including one on Cherry Street and a tractor-trailer parked behind Dollar General on Fairview Avenue.
On Campbell Avenue, across from Hillhurst Park, Donald Hall told of the branch that fell and smashed his neighbor’s SUV window. He was bringing in his spider plants from the porch when the limb went down.
During the storm he saw lightning flashes and heard a loud boom.
“The whole neighborhood shook,” Hall said. “My mother lives three blocks over and she thought something had exploded.”
Over in the part of Rotterdam near Schenectady, a tree crew worked to take out a large tree that fell in a Myrtle Avenue backyard. They had to use a crane to lift out the large tree parts, putting them on a truck to haul away.
“This area got hit really hard,” said Cookie Hughes, who lives on Ford Avenue in Rotterdam near Jefferson Elementary School. “Trees have been ripped up, power lines are down. The roof got ripped right off a guy’s house.”
Hughes said her street as well as Melrose Street and Princetown Road were hard hit, but she added that “the Rotterdam Highway Department is doing a phenomenal job. They’ve been out clearing streets since 7 a.m.”
On Duanesburg Road, near Five Corners, resident Tom Ryan recounted seeing a funnel cloud pass near his house. With his wife, Michelle, in the cellar, too petrified to stay upstairs, he watched from the home’s first-floor window.
“It came right through here, about 20-30 feet off the ground,” Ryan said as he took a break from cleanup work. “It was a tornado, but it did not touch the ground.”
At the Ryans’ home, a large section of a line of trees was down. Another branch landed on a car. Items were damaged on their lawn but their house was fine.
“Everybody’s fine, thank God,” Michelle Ryan said.
Next door, Tony Campoli and his grandson Anthony were shoring up some small trees. The grandfather’s big tree, at a home he had lived at for 50 years, lay on its side.
“There’s so much damage around here, it’s unbelievable,” Campoli said.
Whether Wednesday night’s damage was caused by a tornado or straight-line winds, an insurance industry official said Thursday, damage to homes should be covered by a standard homeowner’s policy.
According to Michael Barry, vice president for media relations for the Insurance Information Institute, the kind of wind damage doesn’t matter for purposes of insurance claims.
“The short answer is there are not likely to be any coverage disputes on property insurance policies when damage is caused by wind,” he said.
Wind, Barry said, is one of the core areas of coverage for homeowner’s policies, along with fire and theft. Wind damage, he said, includes trees blown down and into houses.
Damage to cars would be covered under the insurance policy on the vehicle, if the car owner has comprehensive coverage.
Wednesday night’s storm also affected the Erie Canal, according to a press release from the state’s Canal Corporation. Because of excessive flows caused by the heavy rainfall, the canal is temporary closed from Lock 7, in Niskayuna, to Lock 19, in western New York.