A series of powerful storms Tuesday morning set a home on fire in Egg Harbor Township, knocked out power to thousands, caused minor flooding and unleashed a tornado in Ocean County.
The National Weather Service reported about 1.3 inches of rain fell at the Atlantic City International Airport, while wind gusts reached 30 mph.
In Egg Harbor Township, an apparent lightning strike touched off a fire that damaged a home on Golden Court in the Lakeside Estates condominium complex. Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, which destroyed the chimney and damaged the siding, but it did not appear to substantially damage the structure.
The owner, Christine O’Gara, 49, was not home at the time. O’Gara declined comment when she arrived later, but her brother-in-law Vincent Breslin said O’Gara had just narrowly avoided a lighting strike about two weeks ago at their Smithville store, “Out of Ireland.”
The bolt hit an adjacent property, knocking out electronics, “and a line of fire went across the parking lot,” said Breslin, 48, of Margate. He said, “So, maybe she attracts lightning?”
Atlantic City Electric spokesman Frank Tedesco said there were about 18,000 customers without power at the peak of the storm. That figure was down to 1,600 by 6:30 p.m., concentrated in Collings Lakes and Manahawkin.
In Ocean County, The National Weather Service confirmed shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday, that a tornado touched down in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township.
The tornado landed around 10:05 a.m. and had estimates wind speeds between 75 mph and 85 mph. The service said the maximum path for the tornado was about 2 miles long and between 50 and 100 yards wide. No injuries were reported.
The violent storm knocked out power to much of Stafford Township, leaving police to direct heavy summer traffic that streamed off a flooded Long Beach Island. Some traffic lights on Route 72 and Bay Avenue were functional by late afternoon, but officers staffed other locations.
Township police Capt. Thomas Dellane said said the township experienced the most damage and trees down in the areas of Bay Avenue and Hilliard Boulevard. The Ocean County Special Services building on Haywood Road near the Stafford Business Park was also struck by lightning, Dellane said.
The storm did not hit the entire region equally. In Cumberland County, 911 Operations Supervisor William W. Mosely, Sr. said there were no reports of damage, and parts of Cape May County were sunny at the height of the storm. Winds topped out at just 8 mph in Millville, according to the National Weather Service, and no rain was reported in Wildwood.
But in Atlantic County, “It was a bad, bad two-hour span,” said Vincent Jones, director of Atlantic County’s Office of Emergency Preparedness. He said the sudden downpour flooded several county and state highways, which reopened later in the day.
Officials were keeping an eye on the Great Egg Harbor River, Jones said. By Tuesday evening, the river was running at 220 percent average at the measuring station in Folsom, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. But at four feet, it was about two feet beneath flood stage.
Damage seemed concentrated in Egg Harbor Township, Jones said, where fire crews went out on five separate calls during the storm.
Mike Fiedor, the Scullville fire chief, said a gas line at a home near Beaver Drive developed a pinhole and was spouting flames. Crews turned off the gas and there was no damage, but Fiedor said, “That could have been totally detrimental.”
That incident was about four miles away from O’Gara’s Lakeside Estates, home where lightning apparently hit the chimney.
Bargaintown Chief Gene Sharpe said Officer Ernie Dunson saw that fire while on patrol and called it in. Sharpe said that was “a real heads-up move on his part” that enabled fire crews to get to scene quicker.
Neighbor Tajah Dorsey turned 15 on Tuesday. She had her party on Sunday and had planned to visit the boardwalk and go out to eat on Tuesday.
Dorsey said she and her friend Miranda Coddington, 15, spent Tuesday morning watching TV in Dorsey’s room. Then came a bright flash of light and a loud crack of thunder. The power flickered on and off.
A police officer beating on the door a few minutes later alerted them, as well as Dorsey’s brother Anthony Oberholtzer, 21, and Dorsey’s mother, Curlette Illa. They fled.
“We ran outside and there was all this stuff falling down,” Dorsey said. There was visible fire, Illa said, and showers of ash.
Afterward, Dorsey held her dog, while she, Illa, and Coddington stood outside wrapped in pink blankets. They were shaken, but glad to be safe.
Oberholtzer, shirtless, said, “We like excitement, but this is something else.”
The Associated Press and staff writers Donna Weaver and Joel Landau contributed to this report.
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