The National Weather Service determined that an EF1 tornado tore through Connecticut's largest city of Bridgeport Thursday, toppling trees and power lines and collapsing several buildings as a powerful line of storms swept across parts of the Northeast. Remarkably, no serious injuries were reported.
The path of tornado was 300 feet wide for about .15 of a mile. Basically, it touched down and jumped back up. The area hit was East Main Street between Cedar and Nichols streets. Wind speeds reached approximately 120 miles per hour. The rest of the damage was caused by straight line winds, approximately 60mph and up.
Hundreds of bricks shook loose from buildings, trees split in half and crushed cars, and a billboard hung precariously several stories up over Main Street. Nine buildings were partially or fully collapsed, including three on East Main that were brought to their foundations. Rescuers searched the rubble to ensure no one had been inside.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch declared a state of emergency.
"We've had hundreds and hundreds of calls into the 911 center," Finch said. "There are downed wires all over the city. There's a smell of gas in and around about six buildings that have been partially demolished."
The storm ripped the roof off of Kolbe Cathedral High School. Classes were not in session.
At least 26 injuries were reported, although none are life-threatening.
"I drove into the storm," Finch said. "It just came up on us so suddenly. To think of watching trees uprooted and blown around and roofs blown off buildings and our fire department's doors blown in and windows blown in, it's just a miracle that only 2(6) people were injured."
Jacqueline Arroyo said she saw a black cloud and ran inside to her third-floor apartment, where a window exploded. Trees were blown so ferociously they appeared to be coming out of the ground, and people were screaming, she said.
"All the wind started coming inside the house. I heard 'boom, boom!"' she said. "It was so fast but terrifying."
A jail lost power, said Finch, who urged residents to stay indoors and remain calm. Gov. M. Jodi Rell was surveying damage to the city.
Fire Chief Brian Rooney said 25 people with non-life-threatening injuries were taken to hospitals, and Finch said most were released. The American Red Cross helped relocate 22 people.
Rooney called it a miracle there was no loss of life.
"Anybody that was in the path of that storm would have been in big trouble," he said.
Tree limbs and power lines blocked traffic on some roads in Bridgeport, a former industrial and manufacturing center of about 135,000 residents that has taken steps in recent years to revitalize downtown areas and waterfront properties.
Some 880 customers remain without power.
Finch said the city had recently planted trees, one of many initiatives to revive Bridgeport. He estimated the storm destroyed hundreds of trees.
Edward Beardsley said the noise of the storm hurt his ears and the force of the wind sent him to the other end of his house.
"It was a noise I never heard before," he said. "The noise - it killed my ears. My two cats still won't come out from under the bed."
Describing the storm, he said, "Everything was pitch black and going in a circle down the road."
Winds that were part of a powerful storm gusted at 78 mph at Sikorsky Memorial Airport at Stratford and blew over some planes.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said in a statement that he will work with local, state and federal officials to help Bridgeport and area towns obtain assistance.
PHOTOS OF DAMAGE ONLINE:
(The associated press contributed to this report)