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Cleanup Continues After Tornadoes Touch Down in Yarmouth, Harwich

Sarah Mizes-Tan

Thursday 7/25  8AM:  The National Weather Service is now saying that two tornadoes, both categorized as EF1 tornadoes, touched down on Cape Cod, one in South Yarmouth and one in Harwich. It had previously indicated that a single tornado had touched down twice.

For those who have gone without power since Tuesday afternoon, the distinction may be a minor one.  As of Thursday at 8AM, a little over 2,500 people still remain without power, but Eversource reported that about 950 crews were out working to clear roads and restore powerlines. Full restoration is predicted by Friday at 6PM.

Roads were mostly open again by mid-day on Wednesday as trees were cleared. 

Governor Charlie Baker visited the Cape to speak with officials and see some of the damage. He promised to look into getting federal aid to help, though he said the extent of the damage to the area has not fully been assessed. He predicted it could be a few days before a full accounting of damage has been made, and that it could be until the weekend before power was fully restored. The state will also be sending in crews in support to help clear debris. 

Credit Sarah Mizes-Tan
Mike Kiernan with the Harwich Department of Public Works cleans up fallen branches in the storm's aftermath.

UPDATE: 4:00 p.m. 7/24/19

Governor Charlie Baker visited Harwich to meet with local officials to assess damage caused by the tornado, and find out ways in which the state could offer support. About 30,000 people still remain without power, and officials estimated it could be until the weekend before power was fully restored. Baker said the tornado impacted about 2 square miles of the mid-Cape, and that the state will be sending back up crews to assist in cleanup efforts. 

"The communities are coordinating with each other to get people back to some degree of normal, and we fully expect that we’ll be here on the ground until everything that needs to be done gets done, and we’ll work with these people to pursue fed reimbursements to help them pay for this," Baker said. 

He added that it may be a few days before everyone has a handle on exactly how much damage has been caused, but officials said the damage has been comparable to that caused by Hurricane Bob in 1991.

"It's very hard at this point to calculate how much debris, and how much damage has been created by this," he added. "But in addition to that, there's a general sense that a lot of the damage that's involved here, they haven't had a chance to get in front of."  

State senator Julian Cyr mentioned that the timing of the tornado comes at the Cape's peak tourism season, when the population of Harwich and Yarmouth nearly double. 

"One of the biggest concerns we’re facing is this is the height of the tourism season, we make our lives out of folks coming here and spending time, and so there’s a lot of concern around how do we get back open for business, we’ve had a tremendous amount of work in the last 24 hours," Cyr said. 

The state will be sending extra crews down to help with debris removal in the next few days, and drone footage will be collected to assess damage in difficult to access areas. 

UPDATE: 1:15 p.m. 7/24/19

Many businesses along Harwich’s main street remain closed today, after a tornado touched down in the town yesterday afternoon.

In the storm's biggest lingering impact, widespread power outages continue, a result of downed trees and power lines. As of 1pm, the towns of Dennis and Harwich both have more than 7000 homes and business without power, Chatham more than 6000, and Yarmouth more than 3000.

Governor Baker is in Harwich to meet with emergency officials and tour the damage this afternoon. 

The Main Street Market, a small convenience store in Harwich, remained open in the aftermath of the storm, despite the fact that they have been without power for a little over 24 hours. Store clerk Cherry Modi has been manning the cash register in the darkened store, and says people are still coming in for supplies.

“We’re taking cash only,” Modi said.  “So they’re buying all the necessary stuff, the newspaper, and they’re coming for the coffee, but they don’t have the coffee. Some need ice. They’re coming for milk, but we don’t have it.”

Massachusetts officials say around 700 crews were out working today to clear downed trees and wires.

Traffic was snarled along the main arteries in Harwich as crews worked with chainsaws and trucks to remove tree branches from roads. At Brooks Park, Main Street had been closed due to a number of fallen trees covering the roads, but crews were able to clear them by early this morning. Mike Kiernan with the Harwich Department of Public Works said the cleanup effort could take a bit of time.

“Some of these trees had been here for hundreds of years,” Kiernan said. “I don’t know how long the tornado was working on the trees, but we’ve got quite a few trees down. It’s just begun really—started yesterday at noon and probably going to go for a few days.”

Rocky Clark, owner of a landscaping company in West Harwich, took a break to pick up Gatorade for his crew.  He said they’ll be working to clear trees for the next few weeks.

“I would say there are at least a 150 trees down in Harwich, and then more in Chatham and Dennis,” Clark said. “I mean, it’s a mess.  And these are big trees. There’s no way you can partially do it, you have to cut them up. Clark attributed the high number of trees downed in part to the wet summer.

“We’d had a lot of rain and [the trees] were heavy with foliage,” he said. “So when the wind came – and this wind was huge—it just blew them right over.”

UPDATE 8:50 a.m. 7/24/19: About 30,000 customers on the Cape are still without power, Eversource has reported they have about 700 crews out working today to clear trees and downed wires. The National Weather Service has officially categorized this tornado as a category EF1 tornado, with winds as strong as 110 miles per hour.

The town of Harwich is reporting the greatest damage in downed wires and trees, though the only building damage reported has been at the Cape Sands Inn in Yarmouth. Harwich has declared a state of emergency, and a shelter has been set up at Dennis Yarmouth High School at 210 Station Avenue in South Yarmouth. 

About 80 percent of tornados in the United States are categorized as EF0 or EF1 tornados. Relatively speaking, this is categorized as a weak tornado, the most powerful being an EF5 tornado which can rip homes off their foundations. 

Credit Courtesy of Diane Martin
The roof over about six rooms at the Cape Sands Inn was ripped off by the tornado.

4pm 7/23/19

A tornado touched down on the mid-Cape in South Yarmouth and Harwich early in the afternoon on Tuesday. The winds downed trees and ripped part of the roof off the Cape Sands Inn on Route 28. No injuries have been reported. 

According to Eversource, about 53,000 customers have reported power outages in Eastern Massachusetts, the majority of which are in Chatham, Harwich and Dennis. The town of Harwich has requested power be turned off to facilitate emergency response. 

Reid Lamberty, a spokesperson with the utility company Eversource, said the company is mounting a “massive response” to the damage from today’s tornado.  But power outages on the Cape may not be quickly fixed.

“We want to warn our customers it could be a lengthy outage," Lamberty said. "It may not be just a few hours, it may be well into the night, it could be into tomorrow, it could even be a couple days for some of our customers. It’s that significant.”

Eversource is pulling in additional crews to bring power back. 

“So we currently have line crews and tree crews on the Cape, not only assessing damage from today’s tornado, but also starting to make repairs. We’ve also mobilized additional line crews and tree crews from Western Mass, Connecticut and News Hampshire to respond to the Cape to also help in that process,” Lamberty said. 

The Cape Sands Inn has sustained the greatest damage from the tornado, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. The inn has about 60 rooms, and the top 6 rooms nearest the hotel's main lobby had the roof ripped off, exposing them entirely to the elements. Kaline Farah and her family were visiting from Montreal and had been staying in one of the rooms that had the roof ripped off. Her family was not in the room at the time, but she said they got a call from the police shortly after the tornado warning stopped. 

"I don’t know in what state my belongings are, we were on the second floor in the corner, they were afraid the floor could collapse," she said, and added that they had not been allowed to go up to retrieve their belongings yet. "We just never experienced tornados before. It was a bit of a shock."

The hotel was working to find alternate lodging for guests who had rooms damaged, though managers declined to comment. The roof apparently blew off and landed directly behind the hotel, and strong winds also bent the hotel's flag pole. Diane Martin and her husband had just checked into their room at the Inn when the tornado struck, and the two watched as the roof blew off across from their room. 

"We were upstairs, the trees you could see were blowing that way, the flag was blowing real hard, and then it got real calm, and then immediately turned and whipped that way and the roof bent over...It was loud." Martin said.