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York residents recall close calls as microburst cleanup continues

Deb Cram | The York Weekly
Deb Cram | The York Weekly
A large tree some say is about 150 years old came down on two vehicles parked near the First Parish Church during a harsh storm that whipped through York on July 15.
By Susan Morse, The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — York Village is no longer the chaotic mess it looked last Wednesday, the morning after a microburst storm cut a swath through sections of town, uprooting trees, damaging homes, breaking utility poles and causing power outages.

All those interviewed have said how miraculous it was that no one suffered serious injury in the storm, which produced winds over 70 mph.

Town Manager Rob Yandow on Monday complimented first responders and town crews, saying it was in a sense a chaotic scene that was under control.

Since the July 15 storm, Department of Public Works crews, members of the Parks and Recreation Department, as well as three private firms hired by the town have removed downed trees and debris out of roads, sidewalks and street rights of way. The same private firms — Lee Tree Co., Abbott Bros Inc. and Pierre Puffer — also are expected to be picking up tree debris residents leave curbside to take to the town transfer station, according to DPW Director Dean Lessard.

Meteorologist James Brown of the National Weather Service in Gray said a team in York confirmed the July 15 storm was a microburst, an intense, narrow downdraft producing winds of 70 to 80 mph. The microburst appeared limited to York, Brown said.

“Most damage was in the village,” police Chief Doug Bracy, the town’s Emergency Management director, said. “It was all north of the [York] river.”

The microburst, which began some time after 4:30 p.m. July 15, lasted about 10 minutes, according to those interviewed. It was centered in York Village, stretched west to Route 1 and Interstate 95, north to Old Post Road and east down Long Sands Road toward York Beach, though the beach area suffered no direct damage, according to Lessard.

Damage may be seen in the Old York Burying Ground, where a large sassafras tree came down across two old gravestones and uprooted another stone.

The Aluise family was displaced from their rented home at 18 Raydon Road after a large tree smashed through the attic. The night of the storm, Evan Aluise said he was playing with the couple’s 5-month-old daughter, Arabella, in the living room, while his wife, Ashley, and her brother, Cole Dalton, were in the kitchen getting dinner.

When the power went out around 5 p.m., “we didn’t think too much of it,” Evan Aluise said. Then, he said, “I heard something that didn’t sound right. I grabbed the baby, we all went to the basement. Honestly, I thought it was tornado. The roof came down after that.”

The tree didn’t fall past than the attic, but the force of the blow caused the drywall to come down in the living room where he had been playing with Arabella moments before.

“If you think about what you could not have right now, it puts everything into perspective,” Aluise said. “If the tree had fallen five feet either way, it might be a different story. It hit in the strongest part of the roof. There were just a lot of things that could have made it a lot worse. We were very lucky, I think.”

When a large maple fell at 88 York St. at the corner of Raydon Road, it lifted a granite post at the edge of the driveway, gave a glancing blow to a vehicle parked in the driveway and destroyed a smaller Japanese red maple, but it missed the house, according to homeowner Nancy Albert.

Lessard directed Lee Tree to clear the tree that brought down wires and was in the town’s right of way.

While homeowners are responsible for downed trees on private property, the town is responsible for clearing streets, sidewalks and the right of way, according to Lessard.

Residents interviewed after the microburst said they knew it was different than a usual thunder and lightning storm. Many described the blackness mixed with an eerie yellow light, the sideways wind and a torrential rain that dropped as from a bucket.

At the Parsons Center on York Street, Museums of Old York Executive Director Joel Lefever said he and board members were holding a meeting when the sky turned dark and they saw limbs rushing by.

People were eating at the Table of Plenty at the First Parish Church when the storm hit. At least two vehicles were crushed under a fallen tree.

The area around First Parish Church was among the sites most heavily damaged, but the church itself was untouched.

“Three hours before, we were selling hot dogs at a hot dog stand [outside],” said Cindy Zobriowski, executive director of Camp Card for Family Camp, which operates out of the church.

York Hospital was fully functioning throughout the event, using auxiliary power. Hospital President Jud Knox said no one came to the hospital with serious injuries during the evening.

At York Hospital, the “most worrisome” moment of the storm came when tree branches snapped and fell onto the main power line coming into the hospital building, Knox said.

The number of power outages peaked at 7,000 in York on Tuesday night, July 15, according to Central Maine Power spokeswoman Gail Rice.

“We had about a dozen broken poles,” she said.

Crews came into town Tuesday night; by Wednesday morning, 1,000 remained without power, she said, adding the number of customers in the dark was down to 76 by Wednesday afternoon.

A similar microburst struck town in June 2010. As in 2010, Bracy said the area affected is likely too limited to request reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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