A bruising storm pummeled Connecticut Tuesday, unloading rain and windshield-splintering hail, stranding thousands of Connecticut-bound commuters in New York and leaving more than 100,000 homes without power as of 10 p.m.
At least one person was killed and three more injured when the storm swept through Danbury. In the city’s Candlewood Lake section, a man was killed after he took refuge from the storm in his truck and a tree fell on the vehicle, Mayor Mark Boughton said.
Responders had to use a boat to reach the man because roads were filled with fallen trees; by the time they reached the man, it was too late, Boughton said
New York’s Grand Central terminal became a holding pen for thousands of disgruntled commuters when Metro-North suspended service along the New Haven, Harlem and Hudson lines at the onset of rush hour. Traffic was at a standstill for most of the evening along many of Connecticut’s highways, and the gridlock spilled onto local roads that ran near the interstates as commuters sought, futilely, to find a less plodding way home.
Earlier Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings – meaning a tornado was occurring or about to occur – in five of the state’s eight counties. The NWS will spend the next few days determining whether a tornado actually hit the state, or if it was simply a violent thunderstorm. Two residents of Brookfield, however, said they thought they saw the funnel of a tornado early Tuesday evening.
The damage was most severe in the Danbury region, the area of Cheshire, Hamden and the Naugatuck Valley, and state’s northeast corner. Eversource reported 108,000 Connecticut homes were without power Tuesday night.
In Danbury, a teen was badly injured when he was struck by the roof of a dugout on the baseball field at Henry Abbott Technical High School. Powerful winds apparently peeled the roof off the dugout, Boughton said.
“He’s banged up pretty good,” Boughton said. “It’s very serious.”
In Brookfield, a man and woman suffered nonlife threatening injuries when a tree fell on them while they were walking along the Still River Greenway, according to Brookfield First Selectman Stephen C. Dunn.
“It’s a real mess,” Dunn said of the damage in Brookfield, which prompted him to declare a local emergency. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it. There are literally hundreds of trees down, wires down, many roads are impassable. Most of our roads are impassable.”
Brookfield has requested help from the state Department of Transportation for equipment and manpower to clear roads; DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said six front-end loaders and three tree crews have been dispatched to Brookfield.
In Hamden, emergency crews found roads so impassable they resorted to using TV vehicles to respond to medical calls, Mayor Curt Leng said. “We are having many, many issues throughout town,” he wrote in an email.
In the northern part of Hamden, fallen trees trapped some residents in their homes and blocked off most of the roads. Many of the downed trees were entangled in wires that needed to be deactivated by utility companies, Leng said.
Cheshire police Chief Neil Dryfe said some of his officers ferried firefighters into a Hamden neighborhood in a police cruiser to respond to a propane leak, because the fallen trees and lines made bringing in a truck impossible.
Dryfe said about 20 streets were “totally impassable.”
“It’s as bad as I’ve seen it here since that October snowstorm five or six years back,” he said.
Gary Lessor, chief meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University’s Weather Center, said two lines of powerful thunderstorms moved into Connecticut Tuesday afternoon. The arrived in Litchfield County about 3 p.m. and moved east toward Granby and Somers, where it weakened. On the way, it dropped damaging hail and rain, with strong winds.
At the height of the storm, 120,000 homes were without power.
A second line of storms moved across Danbury, Brookfield, New Fairfield, Newtown and Southbury and continued east, causing extensive tree and wind damage as it continued through the Naugatuck Valley and into Cheshire, Hamden and Wallingford.
East of Hartford, the storm fronts combined and moved into eastern Connecticut, causing damage as far east as Ashford, Pomfret, Woodstock, Plainfield, Lessor said.
Bradley International Airport briefly grounded all flights after evacuating its Air Traffic Control Tower at around 4:30 p.m., but the airport reopened the tower a half-hour later and resumed flight operations.
Metro-North’s New Haven Line trains returned to a limited service with heavy delays at about 7:30 p.m. Fallen trees on the Waterbury and Danbury branches caused delays.
The windshield of a Norfolk man’s car splintered when it was struck by a baseball-sized hailstone Tuesday evening. The man was driving home from Bradley International when the hailstone hit his car in Granby, said Jonathan Barbagallo, a spokesman for the Norfolk fire department.
A Burlington policeman described the torrent that began there at about 5 p.m. as “biblical.”
“Absolutely pouring,” officer Thomas Null said. “The skies literally opened above us, huge rain drops falling all around.”
In the southwestern corner of the state, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi declared a local emergency at 6 p.m., after the storm knocked down wires and trees — some of which slammed into homes.
“We have arcing wires everywhere in the road,” Marconi said in the evening.
The Danbury-Brookfield area were hit especially hard, and Brookfield resident Michael Zacchea said he felt something strike his car as he drove along Route 133.
He sought shelter at a nearby house, and took refuge under a garage overhang.
“Within about 10 yards of where I was standing, three trees went down,” Zacchea said. “In the back a tree went down, hit the house and stove-in the roof.”
The wind hurled branches and debris all around him.
“It sounded like a vacuum cleaning – just a huge whoosh and literally stuff flying,” he said.
As fast as the storm came, it was gone. “It only lasted for five minutes but it came so quickly,” he said. “All I could see was gray, dark gray, stuff flying.”
Courant staff writers Nicholas Rondinone, Mikaela Porter, Bill Leukhardt and Josh Kovner contributed reporting.