Severe thunderstorms rolled through South Jersey in two loud bursts Thursday morning and evening as heavy rain, wind and lightning caused scattered damage and left thousands temporarily without power, but the damage was not as bad as many officials feared.

Around 11 a.m., the sky looked briefly like nighttime as thunderstorms, gusts of heavy winds and hail swept through the area. A second storm carried through again around 6 p.m.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mitchell Gaines said the region received about 1 to 2 inches of rain, and some minor flooding was reported.

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Wind gusts were reported as high as 60 mph in parts of Cumberland County. The wind became weaker as it traveled east, he said.

“We had two damaging storms,” he said. “Both packed a punch across southern New Jersey.”

This weekend is expected to be much calmer, with only a slight chance of showers this morning and sunny weather with highs in the 70s Saturday and Sunday.

The morning storms left nine downed poles in Deerfield Township, Cumberland County, felled trees at the Cape May County Park and Zoo, and left electronically flushing toilets at Mainland Regional High School useless. School was dismissed early.

Significant power outages affected towns in the region, with the highest numbers recorded in Bridgeton, Linwood, Egg Harbor Township and Absecon.

Bridgeton and Linwood both reported almost 1,000 Atlantic City Electric customers without service, while Absecon reported more than 1,700 customers without power for more than an hour.

The Egg Harbor Township police sent a message through social media that the municipal building lost power and nonemergency services would be stopped.

Frank Tedesco, a spokesman for Atlantic City Electric, said that at the peak, outages in the region Thursday morning reached 4,058 in Atlantic County, 842 in Cape May County and 2,193 in Cumberland.

The second storm later in the day left about 1,800 Atlantic City Electric customers without power, most of them in Bridgeton.The utility expected most of the homes to be restored by Friday morning.

Cape May County Emergency Management Director Marty Pagliughi said Atlantic City Electric had notified contractors to be ready to work restoring power, if needed, at the start of the day.

Activities rained out

The weather canceled or altered outdoor events and activities.

The Cape May County Zoo announced it was closed due to severe weather, and power was knocked out at the park after the storm, according to county spokeswoman Lenora Boninfante.

“The band of severe weather caused at least five trees to fall and damage to power lines,” Boninfante said.

The animals were locked up safely away from the storm, which damaged electrical fencing, according to Middle Township police at the scene about 12:30 p.m.

During the morning round of rain, Geraldyn O. Foster Early Childhood Center in Bridgeton moved its annual Fun in the Sun event indoors. The change meant the 490 students participated in activities without their parents or guardians because of a lack of space.

Hazards encountered

In Ocean County, a sinkhole reported near exit 58 on the Garden State Parkway created a temporary nuisance for northbound travelers as they were rerouted to County Road 539 for an eighth of a mile before merging back onto the highway. The State Police tweeted a message at 12:20 p.m. that parkway construction workers went out in the middle of the rain to quickly patch the hole.

Lightning strikes were seen throughout the area. Vineland fire officials are investigating whether a blaze in the 200 block of East Elmer Road Thursday morning was caused by a lightning from the storm.

City authorities said no one was injured in the fire, which was limited to the attic of the house.

The fire was reported at 11 a.m., city fire officials said, and drew units from the Vineland, Millville and Rosenhayn fire departments. Some firefighters remained on the scene of the blaze, which was brought under control around noon.

Throughout South Jersey, emergency response personnel were prepared and sent frequent updates through emergency notification systems throughout the day.

Since Little Egg Harbor Township worked through Hurricane Sandy, the local fire department, police and public works crews were prepared with the necessary equipment, police Chief Richard Buzby said. This includes a military truck for navigating through flooded areas, he said.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection opened sluice gates at Union Lake Dam in Millville to better control water levels on the lake and the Maurice River in anticipation of today’s heavy rains.

The storm system originally forecast to affect one in five Americans from Iowa to Maryland surged toward the Mid-Atlantic after causing widespread power outages but largely failing to live up to its billing in ferocity through the Upper Midwest. Large hail and flooding did do some damage.

Staff writers Joel Landau, Donna Weaver, Thomas Barlas, Rich Degener, Steve Lemongello and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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