NORTHFIELD — Residents of Shepherd Drive heard the the wind pounding against their homes, watched as trees toppled and crashed through their walls and roofs, and saw their modern, suburban street plunged into darkness.
When the sun rose June 30, residents who witnessed the awesome power of the “derecho” storm walked outside to find unparalleled devastation.
But they were all alive — and despite the damage, that was what was important.
“Material stuff is nothing,” said Patricia Walley, who had a tree fall on her roof and rip a hole in her ceiling. “Life is not replaceable.”
Such was life this week on Shepherd Drive, just one of the neighborhoods across the region that saw normal life turned upside down by the June 30 storm. The stories its residents told could act as a microcosm of what thousands experienced throughout one frightful night and a long, hot summer week.
“It’s a war zone,” said Mike Brenner, who stood in his driveway on Tuesday shaking his head. “The most amazing thing was: The next day when you got up, everything was calm, sunny — but everything was devastated. And then, people would drive down and take pictures like they were on a Hollywood tour.”
As if to accentuate the feeling of entering another world, there was a giant, cavernous hole marking the entrance to the street, as a tree fell with such power that it pulled up the Fitzpatricks’ lawn to expose the dirt and sewage pipes underneath.
“This tree fell, and knocked the top off of that tree off, and then that fell into (our neighbor’s) roof,” said Jaime Fitzpatrick, kneeling down by the hole as if she was preparing to enter a cave. “The whole lawn folded up like a carpet. ... My dad was just saying, ‘I wonder where the sewer is.’ Well, there you go!”
The result of that domino effect on the trees could be seen at Walley’s house, where the huge gash from the fallen tree scarred the living room ceiling,
“It came right through the roof, and we could hear the rain coming in,” Walley said. “We did the best we could in the rain, and my husband and neighbors chipped in to help. The floor’s ruined, the TV’s ruined, but we’re grateful no one got hurt. The roof can be fixed. ... We’re thankful to the Lord that no one was hurt.”
And as if to answer her prayers, the power suddenly returned as she was speaking, with lamps turning on and cold air shooting from vents.
“Everything went on just now!” she exclaimed. “Hallelujah!”
In turn, several of the large, seemingly decades-old trees in her own yard had come to a violent end in her neighbors’ property.
“He and his wife lived here all their lives,” Walley said of the 92- and 90-year-old Charles and Olive Sherman. “And they’ve never seen anything like this.”
Their daughter, Beth Loftus, swung by and checked on them, making her way through the giant, sawed-off tree trunks that dotted the front yard.
“My mom woke up in the middle of the night,” Loftus said. “Luckily, all the major damage was in back of the house,” Loftus said. “They sleep in the front bedroom. Trees came right through the roof, and there were dangling wires everywhere.”
For days, the stretch of North Shepherd Drive — the road splits for most of its length — was completely blocked off by fallen trees on one end and more fallen trees at the other, cutting off its residents as neatly as if the city put up a roadblock.
The Rev. Gene Huber had to cut through the trees in his driveway to allow some kind of access to the isolated residents caught in the middle — like Skip Phipp, who gestured beyond his almost comically flattened shed to the several trees that had crashed into the house behind him, where, thankfully, no one has lived for years.
Cutting it even closer was Amanda Mazzeo, daughter of Northfield Mayor Vince Mazzeo, whose bedroom was struck by not one, but two trees.
“I wasn’t in there, though!” she said. “I woke up on the couch, looked out the window, and it looked like the world was ending. It was freaky.”
Eight-year-old Jack Hughes had an even more dramatic description of the storm he woke up to watch: “I heard a big sonic boom!”
But at the halfway point of the street sat the most visible remnant of the awesome power of the storm — a white Hummer, crumpled up as if a dinosaur stepped on it, its doors thrown open by the impact.
“We were sitting by the window and looked outside and said, ‘Look at those trees coming down!’,” said Keith Ferguson, a patrolman with the Atlantic City Police Department. “And as we were watching ... this tree fell right in front of us. We thought we lost the Jeep as well.”
He and his wife, Carol, had been considering going out into the storm and putting the top on the Jeep, Ferguson said. If they had, they might have still been in the driveway when the trees fell.
“I think, if we went in and did that, what would have happened?” he asked. “We were just so lucky. ... We hit the Powerball Friday night at 1:30. ... It looks bad, but the main thing is we’re OK.”
Still, as he looked around at the wires ripped from the house, the trees scattered across his yard, the massive holes left behind from falling tree trunks, he knew that his home could be considered the ultimate proof of an historic disaster.
“I think we’re the worst house,” he said, “on a bad street.”
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