Explosive thunderstorms that triggered tornado warnings throughout southern Maine knocked down trees and power lines, flooded streets and damaged homes Wednesday evening in Alfred, Limerick, Gorham and other communities.

About 22,000 Central Maine Power Co. customers were without electricity at 11 p.m. Wednesday. York County accounted for nearly half of the power outages.

Bob Bohlmann, director of York County’s Emergency Management Agency, reported widespread damage, including severe roof damage to a house on Foss Road in Limerick and to a house on Gore Road in Alfred.

Witnesses reported seeing a funnel cloud touch down near the intersection of Gore Road and Route 202. Witnesses said the funnel tore out some trees and ripped a propane tank out of the ground, Bohlmann said.

“We have a potential for a tornado there,” he said. The National Weather Service has been asked to inspect the damage today to determine whether it was a tornado.

Gorham was among the hardest-hit communities. A barn collapsed at the Benson farm on Westcott and Dunlap roads. Dispatchers said a Gorham police officer reported seeing a tornado cross Libby Avenue near the Gorham Flag Center.

There was so much damage in Gorham that the Fire Department Task Force, which consists of several departments in the area, sent fire crews there to help.

A dispatcher for Cumberland County said trees landed on buildings in Gorham, and telephone and power lines fell.

Heather Coppola, 43, who lives on a dirt road called Lovers Lane in Gorham, was eating dinner with her nephew, Kyle Lewis, 21, at 6:48 p.m. when the sky turned black and the wind began to create a loud, strange noise.

They saw a funnel cloud forming, she said. Trees around the house began snapping. A burst of wind blew the patio furniture off the deck, she said.

Coppola said she heard rumbling water. “It almost sounded like when someone opens a dam and water rushes out like crazy, a big tunnel of water coming at you,” she said.

Her sister’s house, next door, was heavily damaged. The rear entry was demolished by fallen trees, and part of the roof was destroyed.

There was scattered damage throughout Limerick. The hardest-hit area was near Patterson Road, where the roof of a seasonal home was ripped off, said Capt. Ray Bishop of the Limerick Fire Department. Also, telephone poles on Patterson Road were snapped.

Witnesses in Limerick reported seeing a tornado, said John Cannon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. He said the weather service will examine the area today to determine whether a tornado touched down.

Late Wednesday night, homes on 26 roads in Limerick were without power.

The weather service reported minor street flooding throughout midcoast Maine and in urban areas including Portland, Lewiston and Auburn. Some roads were washed out in Lincoln and Knox counties, which got 4 inches of rain in three hours.

The violent weather was created by a combination of factors, Cannon said. There was an unusually strong jet stream over the region. While there was dry air in the upper atmosphere, warm and humid air was near the ground, and it was pulled aloft, he said.

The conditions produced wind shear, a phenomenon that occurs when there is a difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere.

It is commonly observed near microbursts, which occur when part of a jet stream is diverted to the ground for few moments, resulting in wind blowing downward. Wind sheer can produce rotating columns of air, Cannon said.

He said the damage in Gorham may have been caused by a microburst.

Hail 1 inch in diameter was reported in Sanford. Hail 0.88-inch in diameter was reported in Falmouth, the weather service said.

South Portland police reported a lightning strike near a home on High Street. The strike caused a fire in an outdoor gas stove that was quickly brought under control.

Westbrook police said a number of trees and wires were down, but no injuries were reported.

In Scarborough, King Street was closed after a large tree fell on power lines.

At 9 p.m. in Owls Head in Knox County, several fire departments responded to four-alarm structure fire on Ash Point Road.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at

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