Elmira hit hard by storm, possible tornado

Matt Richmond/ WSKG/ Innovation Trail
July 27, 2012


A severe thunderstorm that passed through upstate New York on Thursday caused heavy damage and left tens of thousands without power. The storm hit the City of Elmira at around four in the afternoon.

According to Elmira shop owner Mark Delgrasso, when Thursday's thunderstorm started it was like nothing he had seen before."Just the debris in the air, large branches started to fly, but nothing like it ended up being."

He went downstairs to check on his store as the storm quickly intensified.

"By then it was quite black out and there were a lot of things falling," says DelGrasso,"the trees were coming down in quite, uh, in short order at that point."

Delgrasso says it moved on fast, the worst of it was over in 20 minutes. But that was more than enough time for major damage to be done. A thick branch from the tree in his front yard landed on the third floor of his 120 year old building. Another fallen tree punched a hole in the second floor of his neighbor's house.

As the sun started to set on Thursday, residents were already cutting away the countless fallen branches and uprooted trees.

At the same time, fire fighters from Elmira and beyond were preparing to fan out into the city.

"You're to go through and assess damage, make notes in your log of what you find..."

Elmira Fire Chief Patrick Benjamin, flanked by state emergency response officials, gave the marching orders.

"We"re looking for buildings that are potentially unstable from a tree hitting it or whatever. The middle section of the town and to the east are the worst damage."

There were unconfirmed reports Thursday that a tornado touched down in Elmira. Delgrasso says he was alarmed because the wind had never hit his house from the direction that it did on Thursday.

"In this area, it blows from the west or the east and this was going... I guess it would have been south. So I don't know whether it was going in a circular direction."

Whether it was a tornado or a severe thunderstorm, the damage was extensive. Half the houses on some blocks were hit by falling tree branches, some roads were impassable and reports of trees hitting power lines and catching on fire trickled into the firefighters.

Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency in Chemung County on Thursday. After passing through here, the brunt of the storm moved on to Broome County and the Hudson Valley where 19,000 residents lost power in Dutchess County.