published Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Cleanup from fatal storms begins in Eastern states

Lee Bellair and her daughter, Kayla Virkler, 3, stand near a tree limb on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in Deerfield, N.Y., that took down the chimney of her home during Tuesday evening's storm.
Lee Bellair and her daughter, Kayla Virkler, 3, stand near a tree limb on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in Deerfield, N.Y., that took down the chimney of her home during Tuesday evening's storm.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SMITHFIELD, N.Y. — Residents of this rural central New York town on Wednesday picked through debris from homes battered by a deadly tornado, and utility crews worked to restore power in several Eastern states hit by severe storms.

In all, five people died Tuesday as strong thunderstorms blew down buildings, trees and utility lines, and left hundreds of thousands without power into Wednesday.

Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley said Kimberly Hilliard, 35; her 4-month-old daughter, Paris Newman; Virginia Warner, 70; and Arnie Allen, 53, were killed in the rural town of Smithfield, between Utica and Syracuse.

He said four homes were destroyed and numerous others were damaged, with Allen's two-story home blown hundreds of feet before it landed on an unoccupied house.

In Manchester, Maryland, a tree fell at the River Valley Ranch summer camp, killing one child and injuring six others headed to a shelter.

Tornadoes also touched down in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Barbara Watson, the meteorologist leading the National Weather Service survey team in New York, said the Smithfield tornado's winds were at least 100 mph and certainly reached undetermined higher speeds.

Gary M. Sprague lives across the street from Hilliard's property, where three vehicles were partially buried in some of the wreckage from the torn-apart house. Wood from the home's framing and walls was scattered around the lawn, and a hot tub sat amid the rubble.

Sprague's home was untouched, but he said he knew immediately afterward that things were bad at his neighbor's.

"If they were in it, they had to be gone," he said. "You can only assume the worst at that point. This is horrible, just horrible."

Madison County Undersheriff John Ball said the dead mother was found next to an outdoor wood boiler and a neatly piled stack of wood, which were untouched. The baby was found about 100 feet away in a field. Neighbors were helping sift through the rubble.

"It took a toll on everybody that was here," Ball said. "This is a rural, close-knit community."

Allen Wiley lives with his wife and two sons at the top of the hill, a couple of hundred yards from Hilliard's destroyed home. He went in the basement with his 13-year-old and 10-year-old sons and stayed there a good three hours.

"We went downstairs quickly, got in a circle and huddled tight," Wiley said. "Before we knew it, windows were popping. I knew visually what we were seeing wasn't good."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said several other central and northern New York counties were damaged but added it was "nothing like what happened here in Madison County."

About 3,000 utility customers across New York were still without power early Thursday.

Forecasters confirmed that at least two tornados hit different parts of Pennsylvania, where more than 350,000 customers lost power at the peak of the storms. The weather service said a tornado packing maximum winds estimated at 90 mph touched down Tuesday afternoon near the western Pennsylvania town of Hoagland. Another tornado touched down Tuesday evening near New Albany in the northeastern part of the state. As of early Thursday, more than 18,000 homes and businesses were still without power in Pennsylvania, more than half of them in the Philadelphia suburbs.

The National Weather Service said three small tornadoes also touched down in northeastern Ohio, causing minor damage.

In Maryland, the storm blew down two tent canopies that had been erected for Wednesday's 150th anniversary event at the Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, according to Chief Ranger Jeremy Murphy, but the event was held as scheduled.

Utilities in the Baltimore-Washington area reported about 17,000 power outages as of Wednesday night.

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