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Weather Service: Storm was a tornado

May 23, 2014
Updated 1:11 p.m.
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Margaret Krylowicz's house on Friday morning, after Thursday's tornado ripped through Delanson and Duanesburg.
Photographer: Ned Campbell
Margaret Krylowicz's house on Friday morning, after Thursday's tornado ripped through Delanson and Duanesburg.

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It was nearly a year ago that a tornado struck a similar portion of our area. HERE is one of the stories we wrote about that tornado.

— A tornado cut a swath through Duanesburg late Thursday afternoon, destroying one home, ripping the side off an ambulance garage and damaging several other buildings.

No serious injuries were reported. Two dogs believed to have been inside the destroyed house at the time the apparent tornado ripped it apart made it out unhurt.

The house, on Route 20 east of Mudge Road, was owned by 69-year-old Margaret Krylowicz, her son Jeff Bivins said. Krylowicz wasn’t home at the time. Instead, she was picking up Bivins’ wife and son in Sharon Springs.

“Lucky,” Bivins said. “Otherwise she probably would have been in the middle of that house.”

Krylowicz’ home was destroyed as the storm barrelled a narrow path through the town, crossing Route 20, then Route 7 and Interstate 88. The storm blew through about 4 p.m., causing most of its damage in Duanesburg, but other damage further on, according to the National Weather Service.

There were reports of a house having its windows blown out in Altamont, and someone spotted a funnel cloud off the ground in Berne, according to meteorologist Evan Heller.

The exact nature of what blew through Duanesburg won’t be formally determined until at least today, Heller said, after a survey team views the damage. But, he said, “we’re pretty confident it will be confirmed a tornado.”

On Route 20, a house near the one that was destroyed sustained roof damage. Further down, a large tree lay on wires. A tree removal crew worked to clear that.

On its way to Route 7, the apparent twister took out utility poles on Cole Road, then the side of the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corps building. No one was inside at the time.

Kathy Chastney and Bob Lasak, heading to a pair of truck rollovers reported on Interstate 88, arrived at the ambulance garage to find a wall completely ripped off by the wind. An ambulance sustained a dented hood and shattered windshield.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” said Chastney, a volunteer driver, as she looked at the wall and the garbage — pretzels, an empty bottle of Italian dressing, an empty whipped cream can — that covered the grass in front of her.

Peter Brodie, captain of the ambulance service, called the damage “catastrophic,” but remained optimistic about the company’s ability to bounce back. He said the damaged ambulance would be repaired today, and the company’s other ambulance was out on a call.

“We’re not going to miss a beat,” he said.

The service does not staff its building 24/7, so no one was there when the storm hit, Brodie said.

“I’d rather it be my building, occupied by no one, than a home occupied by a child or elderly person whose life is ended by something that dangerous,” he said. “I’d rather it hit our building, because we’re resilient. We’re EMTs. We bounce back.”

Immediately following the storm, Brodie met with town public safety chiefs and Supervisor Roger Tidball to start developing a plan of action.

“It’s a tragedy,” Tidball said of the damage throughout the town. “Luckily, we’ve heard that there’s been no fatalities, no major injuries. That’s the biggest thing — any building can be rebuilt.”

Damage at the ambulance building is expected to take months to repair, Schenectady County Fire Coordinator John Nuzback said. In the meantime, ambulances will be stationed at the Duanesburg and Quaker Street fire departments.

On Route 7, the storm hit a 45-year-old family restaurant, a former motel next door and a garage across the road.

John Payne rode out the storm in the dining room of his family’s restaurant, The Bear’s Steakhouse, on Route 7 west of the hamlet of Duanesburg. The restaurant appeared to have escaped major damage, but a concrete-foundation porch off the back sustained major damage. Several large trees were downed, too.

“It turned very, very dark,” Payne said, then the hail and wind came.

He told his mother to get away from the windows.

“The house was actually shaking,” Payne said. “It was awful. I was going ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to die.’ ”

Despite the exterior damage, Payne hoped to reopen the restaurant once power returned.

Next to The Bear’s Steakhouse, Eamon and Loretta Murphy took cover in the basement of their house behind a long, one-story former motel and apartment building. Loretta got the tornado warning from her sister by phone.

“We run to the cellar, the middle of the cellar, with walls all around,” she said. “We heard it come through. Oh, it sounded like a train.”

They heard the hail, then crashes. When they came out, their back porch was pulled up. The front awning and roof of the former motel was in the field behind them.

“It just blew my mind,” Loretta said.

Eamon and family worked to get tarps supplied by friends secured before the rain came again.

“Anything else doesn’t really matter,” Loretta said of the damage, “as long as we’re OK.”

The storm’s path also included Interstate 88, where two large trucks, including a FedEx 18-wheeler, were toppled like children’s toys. Other minor accidents were also reported in the aftermath, officials said.

Two highways, Route 7 and Route 20, were closed for a time, while the interstate was down to one lane in both directions while the trucks were righted and removed.

Firefighters from around the town and area responded to the various spots of damage, including Duanesburg, Quaker Street, Delanson, Mariaville and Plotterkill. The Central Bridge and Esperance departments from nearby Schoharie County also helped out, Nuzback said.

“We had a good response from everybody out here,” Nuzback said.

Back on Route 20, Krylowicz sat in her son’s car and spoke to a Red Cross worker. Bivins said he expected his mother to stay with him in Burtonsville.

Krylowicz lived in the modest home for about 20 years, her son said. She has two dogs, Missy, a dachshund, and Lexie, a German shepherd. Lexie was found two doors down the road, Bivins said. Missy was found in the middle of what was left of the home. Both were fine.

The home was in ruins, however. Barely three walls stood, the interior a pile of broken wood. A refrigerator was knocked over. There was nothing left where the garage once stood.

Across the way, a stand of trees wore the remnants of the home’s insulation. A wheelchair Krylowicz sometimes uses when she’s tired was also there. A family friend retrieved it. A bracket was busted, however, making it unusable.

“There’s not much else to grab,” the friend said.

Bivins said he heard about the storm by phone. The caller told him his mother’s house was hit.

“I’m thinking lightning, obviously not this,” Bivins said, gesturing to the remains of the home.

When he saw what actually happened, he said he was devastated.

“I’m just glad that she was out and not here,” he said.

 

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