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September 21, 2014

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Cleanup from deadly storm starts in Eastern states

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Oneida Daily Dispatch, John Haeger / AP

Debris is visible at Goff Road in Smithfield, N.Y., following severe storm on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Officials in central New York say four people are dead and four homes have been destroyed in building collapses amid severe thunderstorms.

SMITHFIELD, N.Y. — Residents in a number of Eastern states were cleaning up Wednesday, a day after being hit by severe storms, including a tornado in central New York that killed four and left survivors to pick through the debris from homes battered by winds of at least 100 mph.

In all, five people died in Tuesday's strong wind and rain that blew down buildings, trees and utility lines and left nearly 200,000 without power into Wednesday.

Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley said Kimberly Hillard, 35, and her 4-month-old daughter, Paris Newman; Virginia Warner, 70, and Arnie Allen, 53, were killed in the rural town of Smithfield, between Utica and Syracuse.

He said four homes were destroyed and numerous others were damaged, with Allen's two-story home blown hundreds of feet before it landed on an unoccupied house.

Injuries and damage from Tuesday's fast-moving storms were not limited to New York state. In Maryland, a child at a summer camp was killed by a falling tree. Three small tornadoes touched down in Ohio and at least one other was sighted in Pennsylvania, where more than 300,000 lost power at the peak of the storms.

Barbara Watson, the meteorologist leading the weather service survey team in New York, said the tornado's winds were at least 100 mph and certainly reached undetermined higher speeds to cause the damage seen in Smithfield.

"It's definitely stronger than that," she said. "It was definitely strong to do what it did."

A key clue will be examining the construction of the house that was blown away, leaving only the foundation, Watson said.

Garry Sprague lives across the street from Hillard's property, where three vehicles were partially buried in some of the wreckage from the torn-apart house. Wood from the home's framing and walls were scattered around the lawn, while a hot tub sat amid the rubble.

Sprague's home was untouched by the storm, but he said he knew immediately afterward that things were bad at his neighbor's.

"If they were in it, they had to be gone," he said. "You can only assume the worst at that point. This is horrible, just horrible."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said several other central and northern New York counties have damage from the same round of storms, but added it was "nothing like what happened here in Madison County."

"Madison County showed once again how strong a community can be," Cuomo said during a news conference in the town public works garage.

The scene of the devastation was the latest Cuomo has visited in his nearly four years in office, during which the state has been hit by hurricanes, severe flooding and several damaging tornadoes. He attributes the frequency of the natural disasters to "a pattern of extreme weather."

"We don't get tornadoes in New York, right?" he said. "Anyone will tell you that. But we do now."

Scattered thunderstorms were forecast for upstate New York starting Wednesday afternoon, but no watches or warnings were issued.

Nearly 44,000 utility customers in central and northern New York were still without power at midday Wednesday.

In Maryland, a tree fell at a summer camp during a strong thunderstorm, killing one child and injuring six others. The children at the River Valley Ranch camp in Manchester were headed to a shelter when a tree fell on them.

Also, severe thunderstorms spawned at least one tornado in Mercer county in northwestern Pennsylvania. Early Wednesday, more than 123,000 across the state remained without power, including 66,000 in Philadelphia and its suburbs. The NWS said possible tornadoes were also reported in Perry, Bedford and Sullivan counties in central Pennsylvania.

The National Weather Service said three small tornadoes touched down in northeastern Ohio, causing minor damage, as strong storms moved across the state.

The storm blew down two tent canopies at the Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick that had been erected for Wednesday's 150th anniversary event at the Civil War site, according to Chief Ranger Jeremy Murphy, but the event was held as scheduled.

In New Jersey, nearly 15,000 homes and businesses remained without power Wednesday.

Associated Press writers George M. Walsh and Chris Carola contributed from Albany, N.Y.

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