With a maximum wind speed of 90 miles an hour, weather experts said, the damage path was 1.5 miles long and 25 yards wide.
City public works crews said they had a tough time cutting their way through a sea of fallen trees left by the tornado along the road that cuts between Federal Hill and Riverside Avenue, including the Huntington Woods complex.
In the wake a powerful punch from Mother Nature shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday that tossed trees to the ground, ripped off roofs and flooded streets, the city is seeking disaster relief to help cover the cost of dealing with the mess left behind.
Mayor Art Ward said Thursday the city was “very, very, very fortunate” that nobody was injured or killed as the storm swept across Bristol.
The mayor said the American Red Cross sheltered about 10 people last night at a hotel in Terryville after the roofs were torn off their homes on North Main Street.
Ward said the designation of the tornado should help the city get disaster relief from the state and federal government.
Surveying the damage across town this morning, Ward said he was surprised how concentrated most of the destruction was. It mostly followed a corridor across the central part of the city that included Rockwell Park, Federal Hill, Memorial Boulevard and Frederick Street, the mayor said.
But several public works employees who have been cleaning up across town said that none of the damage elsewhere compared with the devastation on Blakeslee Street.
On the enhanced Fujita scale used to rate tornados, the twister that struck the area was classified as Ef-1, the weather service said.
Ward said the storm was “definitely different” from anything he’s seen before.
“It definitely has to be classified as something other than a storm,” the mayor said. “When you look at the trees and how they remained after being impacted, literally trees were twisted. Some were just uprooted” while others were “cut off at the bottom, almost like a chainsaw” and still others cut off near their crests.
Ward said the “real darkness” at the height of the storm as well as the stunning amount of rain and hail was unique, too.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said it seemed like someone flipped a switch and everything got dark on Middle Street shortly before hail and heavy rains started falling.
Given all the trees that came down, Ward said, the city is lucky that nobody got hurt or killed. Trees hit more than a few homes and vehicles, but didn’t clobber anyone in the process.
The mayor said he had no idea something so unusual was coming.
Ward said he was talking to a woman in his office shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday when he noticed that that it was growing dark outside his window. Then the rain began falling with growing intensity.
The mayor said it kept coming down harder and getting darker. When the hail began falling, too, he said, “I think we’re in trouble here.”
In no time, Ward said, the phones began ringing and sirens filled the air outside. Power went off at City Hall.
Ward said he soon declared a state of emergency and opened the emergency operations center about 5 p.m. to coordinate the city’s response.
About 5:30 p.m., Richard Ladisky, the city’s emergency management director, rushed into the police station. He said he’d been called in to help with the crisis, which he didn’t yet know much about.
Ward said he stayed until 11 p.m. and then returned this morning at 6 a.m. One officer on hand at the command center this morning had been working since 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the mayor said.
“I really want to express my appreciation to all of the city workers and the citizens. Everybody was absolutely superb. I did not hear one single complaint,” Ward said.
He said he has been especially impressed that the first question from almost everyone to him has been to inquire whether anyone got hurt. That says something about the community’s character, Ward said.
Cockayne said that all over town, people came together to help each other.
“It’s amazing to see the type of community we live in,” he said. “City workers did a tremendous job and when they weren’t around, people took care of business themselves” to clear roads and remove dangerous limbs.
Ward said that towing companies pulled cars out of danger for free, a tree company offered to help homeowners’ who can’t afford to pay for tree removals and many people rose to the challenge to lend a hand to neighbors.
“People have answered the call,” the mayor said. “They showed a can-do attitude and a caring for others.”
In the first real test of the city’s emergency preparedness since he took office in 2007, Ward said, “Everything went off without any hitches.”
Ward said he called for state and federal assistance Wednesday to get the wheels in motion for financial and other assistance for anyone seeking help. The city will have overtime costs and its own repair tab, the mayor said.
“It’ll cost us some time and money and labor to get back to normal. But Bristol has always responded well in times of emergency,” Ward said.
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