Severe storm tears through Bridgeport, Conn., shredding buildings, toppling trees, power lines

By John Christoffersen, AP
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Severe storm shatters largest city in Connecticut

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A severe storm packing ferocious winds tore through Connecticut’s largest city Thursday, toppling trees and power lines and collapsing several buildings as a powerful line of storms swept across parts of the Northeast. Remarkably, no serious injuries were reported.

Hundreds of bricks shook loose from buildings, trees split in half and crushed cars, and a billboard hung precariously several stories up over Main Street. Nine buildings were partially or fully collapsed, including three on East Main Street that were brought to their foundations. Rescuers searched the rubble to ensure no one had been inside.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch declared a state of emergency after the fast-moving system of driving rain and wind gusts that reached 78 miles per hour in the area.

Jacqueline Arroyo, 44, said she saw a black cloud and ran inside to her third-floor apartment, where the window exploded. Trees were blown so ferociously they appeared to be coming out of the ground, and people were screaming, she said.

“All the wind started coming inside the house. I heard ‘boom, boom!’” she said. “It was so fast but terrifying.”

A jail was without power, Finch said. The mayor urged residents to stay indoors and remain calm, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell was surveying damage to the city.

Fire Chief Brian Rooney said 25 people were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The American Red Cross helped relocate 22 people, he said.

Rooney called it a miracle there was no loss of life.

“Anybody that was in the path of that storm would have been in big trouble,” he said.

A Catholic high school, a museum dedicated to P.T. Barnum and several other buildings also had roof and window damage. Tree limbs and power lines blocked traffic on some roads in Bridgeport, a former industrial and manufacturing center of about 135,000 residents that has taken steps in recent years to revitalize areas downtown and waterfront properties.

United Illuminating reported nearly 21,100 customers without power after the storms, along with about 3,800 customers of Connecticut Light & Power.

There were unconfirmed sightings of a tornado, Finch said. A tornado warning had been issued for the area, but National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Castro said the agency would have to survey the area to confirm that one had hit.

Edward Beardsley said the noise of the storm hurt his ears and the force of the wind sent him to the other end of his house.

“It was a noise I never heard before. The noise — it killed my ears. My two cats still won’t come out from under the bed.”

Describing the storm, he said, “Everything was pitch black and going in a circle down the road.”

Winds that were part of a powerful storm gusted at 78 mph at Sikorsky Memorial Airport at Stratford and blew over some planes.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said in a statement that he will work with local, state and federal officials to help Bridgeport and area towns obtain assistance, including help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency if necessary.

The Connecticut storm was part of a system that destroyed a historic town hall and other buildings in Edgerton, Ohio, the night before, and brought torrential rains and high winds to the Philadelphia area on Thursday afternoon.

The storm contributed to the collapse of a church and a banquet hall in Philadelphia with no injuries reported, fire officials said.

Winds extensively damaged the roof of a day care center in Primos-Secane, but no children were hurt, officials said.

Power was cut to thousands in the area.

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