Bridgeport, Conn., surveys damage from storm that knocked down buildings, tore off roofs

By John Christoffersen, AP
Friday, June 25, 2010

Bridgeport, Conn., views damage from strong storm

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Some parts of the city looked untouched. And then there were the sections that, in the words of the mayor, looked as if Godzilla had come in and ripped off roofs, knocked down buildings, toppled trees and shattered windows.

“This was a very powerful storm,” Mayor Bill Finch said. “We’re just going to have to get through this like we have to get through everything.”

Bridgeport, which has struggled with poverty, crime and political corruption while making progress with sports stadiums and downtown developments, is used to setbacks. Now the city can add a severe storm packing ferocious winds, and perhaps a tornado, to its list of woes.

The storm tore through Connecticut’s largest city on Thursday, toppling trees and power lines and collapsing several buildings as part of a powerful line of storms sweeping 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 at least three that were brought to their foundations. Rescuers searched the rubble to ensure no one had been inside.

High winds from the system knocked out power to tens thousands of customers in from Maine to Pennsylvania. Philadelphia-based utility Peco said 155,000 customers were without power Friday morning.

In Bridgeport, Finch declared a state of emergency after the fast-moving system of driving rain and wind gusts that reached 78 mph in the area. He said another 20 to 30 buildings will have to be inspected and estimated damage in the millions of dollars.

Jacqueline Arroyo said she saw a black cloud and ran inside to her third-floor apartment, where a 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 lost power, said Finch, who urged residents to stay indoors and remain calm. Gov. M. Jodi Rell was surveying damage to the city.

Fire Chief Brian Rooney said 25 people with non-life-threatening injuries were taken to hospitals, and Finch said most were released. The American Red Cross helped relocate 22 people.

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 downtown areas 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.

Finch said the city had recently planted trees, one of many initiatives to revive Bridgeport. He estimated the storm destroyed hundreds of trees.

There were unconfirmed sightings of a tornado, Finch said. A tornado warning had been issued for the area, and the National Weather Service will be surveying damage in to see if it was a tornado.

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,” he said. “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.

Finch’s 28-year-old son, Peter Finch, was charged with stealing a street sign after police said he stopped to “get a souvenir,” then entered a bar after a 5:30 p.m. citywide curfew imposed by his father.

Peter Finch called his arrest “silly” and said his only intention was to bring the sign to his father.

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, firefighters said. Winds extensively damaged the roof of a day care center just west of the city, but no children were hurt, officials said.

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