Sunday, July 25, 2010

4 Tornados touched down in Chautauqua County Yesterday

Twister carves path of destruction
Tornado touches down in Chautauqua County community of Mayville

Roofs disappeared, buildings splintered, trees became kindling and cars were crushed.

Miraculously, no one was injured when a tornado carved a path of destruction in the Chautauqua Lake community of Mayville late Saturday afternoon.

The daunting twister set emergency agencies into action on many fronts as residents of a swath of the Southern Tier and northwestern Pennsylvania braced for a National Weather Service tornado warning.

In Mayville, the warning was on the money.

The National Weather Service confirmed the tornado touched down in Mayville at 4:48 p.m. Meteorologists are continuing to investigate further tornado reports, including a possible touchdown in Randolph.

Based on radar images and early reports, it appears that the tornado was quite "strong," said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Thomas.

After ripping along Morris and Valley streets in the village of Mayville, the tornado took off across Chautauqua Lake, where it gained speed and targeted Chautauqua Lake Estates, an upscale development of two- and three-story condominiums. At least 10 homes were damaged.

The stark funnel cloud was first spotted on Hannum Road, just outside of Mayville, near Sherman.

Damage in Mayville was extensive. The roof of Chautauqua Liquors and an attached business was torn off. Trees were down on several streets, and power and cable lines were down.

On Morris Street, Anna Preston arrived home to find her yellow Ford Focus smashed by a large tree in the driveway of her family's home. Anna, who will be a freshman at Buffalo's D'Youville College, said the car was to be her ride to college.

Homes on Valley Street also were damaged extensively. Traffic was routed away from Route 394, the main street in Mayville. Several side streets were clogged with limbs and downed power lines.

After hitting Mayville the tornado headed across Chautauqua Lake to Hartfield and Chautauqua Lake Estates.

Rick Cole, second battalion coordinator for Chautauqua County fire and emergency services, said one couple inside a condo sipped wine as they watched the high-powered winds rip off roofs and tear away walls of neighboring condos.

Cole said a thorough search was made of the damaged condos, and he was amazed no one was injured. A kayak found its way through a second-story window of one unit. Other boats moored nearby also were damaged, as were docks.

Next to Chautauqua Lake Estates, at the Chautauqua Racquet Club, the roof was torn from half the building, exposing the inside.

At nearby Chautauqua Point Golf Course, owner Steve Elliott lost 24 golf-carts when a transformer on a pole crashed down onto the carts, triggering a chain of explosions and fires in the gas-powered vehicles.

Jim Bradford, groundskeeper for the golf course, said he had just filled up the tanks on the carts that morning. Bradford said most of the carts were new.

Elliott said no one was on the golf course at the time because of heavy rains earlier.

A building on the course also was fractured -- pieces of furniture, lumber and debris were strewn along a fairway.

Elliott said the twister headed across the street on a "dogleg right" trajectory and continued through a wooded area. Pieces of pink insulation were snared by tree limbs, more than 200 yards away from the condos.

Route 430 and Route 394 were closed near Mayville. Emergency crews continue to work to clear debris from the roads, Chautauqua County sheriff's deputies said.

The Chautauqua County Sheriff's Marine Patrol Unit set up a perimeter preventing some boaters from launching on the north point of Chautauqua Lake, deputies said. From about a quarter-mile away, Bradford, Pa., resident Kristin Asinger saw the funnel cloud descend from the sky and touch down near Chautauqua Lake.

"As it got closer to the water, you could see it spinning," Asinger said.

When the funnel cloud reached the water's edge, it turned east and started to move across the land, Asinger said.

Asinger was playing cards at her parent's lake house when the family saw the tornado.

"We yelled for everyone to come and see it," Asinger said. "I'm glad it didn't came too close, I'm grateful for that. It was interesting to see."

Jim and Mary Conway of Shaker Heights, Ohio, were in their lakeside vacation condo near Mayville when the tornado tore off the roof and part of the walls.

"I jumped up and all of a sudden the windows were breaking, glass was everywhere and rain was hitting us," said Mary Conway.

Jim Conway, the president of a Cleveland-area beer distributorship, said several other residences in their development as well as a nearby golf course also were damaged.

A National Grid spokesman said the storm left 12,500 homes without power.

In Randolph, authorities received reports of downed trees, a roof torn off a building and a tractor-trailer overturned. A National Weather Service field team is to arrive today to investigate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Buffalo News

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