A tornado struck southern New Jersey on Tuesday amid a series of powerful storms, knocking down trees and power lines and damaging several church buildings as it cut a two-mile-long path through Ocean County, just miles from the busy shore resort area of Long Beach Island.
The National Weather Service said the EF-0 tornado touched down just after 10 a.m. on Tuesday near Route 9 in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township, with an estimated maximum wind speed of 75 to 85 mph and a width of 50 to 100 yards.
Trees were snapped or knocked down along the path and roof damage was reported to several church buildings, authorities reported. No injuries were reported at the church.
"We had numerous storms that had rotation,'' said Walter Drag, a weather service meteorologist. "There were numerous cells. It was a tough couple hours out there.''
A surveillance camera outside a Stafford Township convenience store captured the tornado on video as it caused dumpster lids to fly open.
"I never heard that kind of sound before," said Mike Vakin, the owner of he store.
Thousands of vacationers pass through Stafford on their way to and from Long Beach Island.
The weather service had issued a tornado warning for the storm as it crossed Harvey Cedars and Barnegat Light but canceled it right around the time the storm reached Stafford.
Drag said the storms moved from east to west across Salem and Gloucester counties, touching part of Camden County as well.
The storms left thousands of New Jersey residents without power after dumping 2 inches or more of rain. Flooding was reported in Middletown, Long Branch, Neptune, Wall Township, Ocean Township, Deal, Little Egg Harbor Township, Deptford, Paulsboro, Gloucester City, Woodbury and Lindenwold.
They even interfered with New Jersey's special primary election for a U.S. Senate seat, which was being held Tuesday. Some voting booths in Burlington County had to be moved when water seeped into polling places, and roads in numerous towns were impassable because of flooding.
Authorities are trying to determine if today's powerful storms also spawned tornadoes Sewell and Swedesboro in Gloucester County, New Jersey and Bear in New Castle County, Delaware.
Torrential rains and dangerous winds pounded the region today, dumping more than six inches of rain in the hardest hit areas, shearing the roofs off buildings and quickly pushing the water in local creeks like the Wissahickon, up four to five feet higher than normal.
The effects of the fast-rising and fast-moving water caused problems for the early morning commute, trapping drivers and causing mass transit delays. Late in the day, the danger persisted. A teen was swept away when he fell into the rushing water in Pennypack Creek in the Holmesburg neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Coatesville in Chester County, Pennsylvania registered the highest amount of rainfall with 6.53 inches on the ground. County officials said five water rescues took place this morning and they had reports of up to 30 cars were stalled in high water.
At the Wissahickon Environmental Center this morning, camp was canceled as workers watched the water come up and eventually cover the bottom of observation benches in Fairmount Park.
“Usually, those benches are overlooking the creek and the creek is a few feet below the benches, but not today,” said John Holback, a summer intern. He predicted the water level around 11 a.m. was about four feet above its normal level. By early afternoon, the Wissahickon was 10 feet higher than before the rain hit and shut Lincoln drive in both directions.
Some of the most visible damage in the early part of the day came from strong winds in both South Jersey and New Castle County, Delaware.
On Indian Mill Road in Shamong Township, Burlington County, New Jersey, wind ripped the roof right off a barn.
“It blew several hundred feet across the street. It hit another house and then ended up in some trees. And actually that roof was broken apart in several pieces,” said NBC10 New Jersey Shore Bureau reporter Ted Greenberg.
Two tornado warnings were issued by the National Weather Service – one around 10:30 a.m. for the Jersey Shore area near Stafford, Barnegat Light and Long Beach Island. The other came during the early morning rush for New Castle County, Delaware, where the winds were strong enough to shear bricks off of an apartment building on Elkton Road.
“The windows fell out on that top floor and there are bricks everywhere,” said NBC10’s Tim Furlong, who shot video of the damage with his iPhone.
First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School asked that all Kindergarten children be picked up immediately due to flooding at the North Campus on Bustleton Avenue in Philadelphia.
In South Jersey, about 10,000 customers with AC Electric were without power at the height of the storm. The two counties experiencing the bulk of the outages were Gloucester with just over 6,000 and Salem with about 3,300 outages. In New Castle County, Delaware, Delmarva reported nearly 3,000 customers without power. PECO had a few hundred customers without power in Philadelphia, Bucks County and Delaware County.
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At one point during the early morning rush, rain was coming down at a rate of nearly 24 inches an hour along I-95 in Delaware and about 12 inches an hour in Pittsgrove, Salem County, N.J.
The Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown closed until further notice due to flooding.