YORK — The sounds of wood chippers and chain saws filled the air Wednesday as crews cleared dozens of trees that toppled when a fast-moving storm packing hurricane-strength winds whipped through the York Village area Tuesday evening.
The same storm system dumped torrential rains throughout the state and neighboring New Hampshire, and touched off a possible tornado in St. Albans in Somerset County, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.
No one was reported injured in York or in the areas of central Maine hit hardest by the storm.
“It rained so loud I thought it was hail,” said Pastor Verlee Copeland of the First Parish Congregational Church in York, where about 50 people were attending a “Table of Plenty” dinner for the needy when the storm hit. “I’m from the Midwest, and it sounded like a tornado to me. There was that black, silent, thick feeling right before … and there was this roaring sound like the heavens were sucking things upward.”
The church was unscathed, but a massive oak in front of the building fell, crushing a car and damaging a truck. Falling limbs from another tree shattered the back window of a Subaru belonging to Kathleen Danforth, a longtime York resident who was at the dinner.
“Poor people who come to church dinners don’t have the kind of car insurance that covers this,” a distraught Danforth said as she walked around her car.
“What am I going to do?” she asked, sobbing as Copeland hugged her.
David Grace was sanguine about the damage to his truck, which was barely visible beneath the hulking 250-year-old oak tree.
“The big thing is that nobody got hurt. Material things can be replaced,” said Grace, a volunteer from New Hampshire who was serving the “Table of Plenty” dinner for an organization that helps soup kitchens.
“We had moved everyone to the basement when there was just a big rumble,” he said. “There was hail, and a massive amount of rain, and then the boom of the tree coming down. It was eerie, because it got so dark.”
After the storm cleared, Grace said, neighbors immediately came out to help others. Some escorted people home – walking alongside cars to help clear small limbs and branches in the dusk – and “total strangers” offered him a place to stay overnight.
Copeland said the oak that fell at the church was planted in 1747, the same year the church was founded.
“It’s as valuable as the historic buildings,” she said. “There’s a lot of sorrow right now.”
York was one of the areas hardest hit by the storm, along with parts of Somerset and Franklin counties, said James Brown, a weather service meteorologist. Those areas were hit with microbursts of high winds concentrated in small areas, he said. The winds in York were 70 to 80 mph, he said, and about 60 mph in other parts of the state. Hurricane-force winds are defined as 74 mph or greater.
A microburst occurs when strong winds in the upper atmosphere are pushed down to ground level by heavy downpours. A microburst produces straight-line winds fanning outward, compared with the criss-cross winds that spawn tornadoes.
“We had reports of hundreds, if not thousands, of trees down in St. Albans, with diameters of 15 to 20 inches,” said weather service meteorologist Tom Hawley.
The weather service reported Tuesday night that it had detected a tornado in Mercer at 6:17 p.m., with another possible 19 miles away in Cornville, both in Somerset County. One had been reported earlier in Franklin County between Farmington and Industry, eight miles apart. Another showed on radar in Somerset County between the neighboring towns of Norridgewock and Skowhegan around 6:30 p.m.
Brown said a weather service team would visit St. Albans on Thursday to determine whether a tornado touched down there.
“There was a lot of damage,” he said.
Misty Lary, who lives on High Street there, said the wind picked up shortly after 6 p.m., just as emergency alerts were being broadcast on her cellphone.
“The alert on my weather app was going off as the rain was coming into my dining room, flooding my dining room,” Lary said. “I shut the sliding glass door, but I had a hard time because the wind was so strong it was pushing me back – it was in the blink of an eye.
“The screen from the window blew in my face, and when (the high winds) hit, I saw the tree come down on our hot tub, and our snowmobile trailer took a ride by itself (toward) our house – the trailer hitch went right through the wall.”
Officials in Madison and Anson, also in Somerset County, reported flooding and areas where rushing water undercut and collapsed parts of roads.
No one was reported injured in St. Albans, said Mike Smith, director of emergency management and the Somerset County Communications Center.
St. Albans Fire Chief Jason Emery called it the worst storm he has seen in his 27 years in the fire department. “On a scale of one to 10 in the affected places, it’s easily a 10,” he said.
In York County, residents in the town of York said they were grateful that no one was injured there. Traffic slowed to a crawl through the village for most of Wednesday as workers cleared trees. Neighbors gawked and took photographs of the downed trees, limbs and leaves scattered all over lawns and streets – and on top of some cars and homes.
“What a mess,” said Town Clerk Mary-Anne Szeniawski. “By the grace of God, no one has been hurt. It is amazing considering the devastation here.”
The storm knocked out power to 13,000 customers statewide, 7,000 of them in York. By Wednesday afternoon, all but 115 of the York customers had power restored, according to the Central Maine Power Co. website.
Two buildings down from the First Parish church there, an ash tree was blown onto power lines and across the roof of a duplex, crushing the corner of the two-story house.
Joan Williamson was inside the apartment on the other side of the house when the winds hit. “It was really raining hard and, truly, (the storm) seemed like only three minutes,” she said.
Williamson and the tenant of the neighboring apartment had to stay elsewhere for the night.
In front of Town Hall, a large blue spruce usually decorated for the holidays was toppled, barely missing a large stone war memorial. Across the street, in an old, historic graveyard, trees knocked over gravestones or rested atop them.
“We’ve had a lot of big storms, but certainly nothing quite as dramatic as this,” said Holly Sargent, a 10-year resident.
Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Amy Calder contributed to this report.