Image: Michigan home destroyed by storm
Laura Slaght surveys a neighbor's property Thursday in Hazel Park, Mich. No one was injured in the house as 70-mph gusts knocked down trees and power lines.
updated 11/14/2003 1:18:20 PM ET 2003-11-14T18:18:20

Utility companies continued working to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers Friday night after heavy wind and rain hit the East and the Midwest. The powerful gusts were expected to calm by Saturday.

AT LEAST EIGHT people have died in the storms since Wednesday, including three motorists who were hit by falling trees.

More than 1.4 million customers lost power, and by Friday evening, lights were still out for about 260,000, including nearly 79,000 in Pennsylvania.

Most utilities expected to return to full power by Saturday, but some hard-hit areas of western New York may be without power until early next week as crews untangle trees from lines and make repairs.

Winds that had gusted to more than 70 mph Thursday died down somewhat, but gusts as high as 45 mph swept over some areas Friday. The National Weather Service predicted calmer winds Saturday.

SCENES OF WRECKAGE

Throughout the region, downed trees and power lines littered roads and yards. Schools were closed Friday in a few spots.

The wind snapped the mast off a 42-foot sailboat off Block Island, R.I., forcing the Coast Guard to rescue the five people aboard. In Oswego, N.Y., a 165-foot cell-phone tower outside a fire station fell onto the chief’s sport utility vehicle.

“It sounded like an aluminum door slamming shut,” Fire Chief Edward Geers told The Post-Standard of Syracuse. “We’re lucky it fell where it did.”

Winds drove a fire through a brick warehouse in Chicago, spreading it to two other industrial buildings and a house before it was put out after almost five hours Friday.

“It’s probably the most difficult fire we’ve fought in quite a while,” Fire Department spokesman Patrick Howe said.

Winds up to 45 mph helped spread a mill fire in Pawtucket, R.I. to homes within a 10-block radius. Embers blew through the air, lighting houses ablaze. At least 13 houses were destroyed, and five people suffered minor injuries.

“The wind is killing us,” Pawtucket police Lt. John Clarkson said.

Image: Charlie Flowers looks over debris removed from his home Thursday in Griffithsville, W.Va.
Charlie Flowers looks over debris removed from his home Thursday in Griffithsville, W.Va.
AFTERMATH OF TORNADOES

Two days of punishing storms in Ohio gave way to calmer weather Friday as cleanup continued from a tornado that Wooster resident Charles Massaro said “sounded like 20 freight trains in surround sound.”

Damage in Wooster was estimated to exceed $15.5 million, and seven people were injured at a Rubbermaid plant. The tornado had winds of 110 to 130 mph and was on the ground for about 12 miles, said Mark Adams, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Two men were killed in Pennsylvania and a woman died in New York when trees fell on their vehicles. Two others died in Pennsylvania when their vehicle struck a downed tree, and snow there was blamed for a one-car accident that killed a sixth-grade teacher.

A motorist who drove past a roadblock was swept away by a flooded creek in West Virginia, and a pregnant woman died in New York when her car slid into a pickup truck.

Also in New York, a construction worker was seriously hurt when a gust blew him off the roof of a Home Depot store, and about three dozen cattle were killed when a barn collapsed.

Despite the loss of livestock, Ann Beckman and her husband were thankful for the timing of the collapse. “Fifteen minutes later and Bob could have been in there feeding them,” she said.

‘TWO STEPS BACK’

Besides the failures in Pennsylvania, power remained out Friday evening for about 21,000 customers in Michigan, 8,700 in Ohio, 480 in West Virginia, 61,000 in New York, 3,800 in Vermont, 500 in New Hampshire, 27,000 in Maine, 7,500 in Massachusetts, 7,000 in Connecticut, 11,000 in New Jersey and 33,000 in Maryland and Delaware.

“It’s been one of those ‘two steps back for every step forward’ kinds of things,” said Steve Costello, a spokesman for Central Vermont Public Service Corp.

Snow complicated the repair work in some northern spots. More than 1½ feet fell on higher peaks in Vermont’s Green Mountains, the state’s first major snowfall of the season.

“It was really hard for our crews to get out and do the work because the plows weren’t out,” said Dorothy Schnure, spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power Corp.

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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