Connecticut Tornado of 1989
“It was sprinkling,” he said, “but the sky was very dirty. By the time I got into the village, it had turned a peculiar yellow, then green, and there was lots of lightning, and it got very, very dark and the wind was blowing hard. I wasn’t too worried. When you’re in a car, you feel pretty secure.
“I turned down Pine Street, the main street in the village, and I got to within a block of town hall. There was a tree lying across the road. I didn’t even see it come down; it was just there all of a sudden. I turned around, thinking I’d get back to the main road where there were fewer trees.
“I stopped at the intersection of Route 125 to let another car pass, and the old maple tree in front of Gisela Lichtenberger’s house fell and crushed the hood of my car. It was raining hard, raining in torrents, and I couldn’t see anything, what with the tree leaves all over. The limbs had pinned the doors shut, and I couldn’t get out. Then the top of the maple across the road blew down and fell across the back of the car.”
Lape’s friend, Chan Tenny, found him there moments later, couldn’t open the car doors, and went to the fire department for help. The dispatcher radioed for volunteers to help a man trapped in a car at Pine and Route 4.
Madeline Lape heard the call over the Plectron radio unit in town hall. “She knew it was her husband,” said first selectman Richard Dakin. “I don’t know how, but she knew.” She did not learn until later that Herbert was OK.
Tenny came back through the downpour with Asa Goddard from the fire department. The tree limbs that sealed the driver’s-side door of Lape’s car shut were too big to handle, but with a small pruning saw they were able to cut away branches on the passenger side and pry that door open. Herbert Lape climbed out.
“I wasn’t scared or anything,” said Lape, who is 81. “It all happened too fast. I didn’t realize until I got out of the car that I was soaking wet and I was covered with powdered glass. It was from the windshield.”
Back down Pine Street, tax collector Helen Migliaccio got in her car to head home and more trees fell. One was in front of her, another behind. Power lines lay all around. She sat still and waited, not daring to touch anything for fear of being electrocuted. “We got to her pretty quickly,” a friend said, “but she was absolutely terrified. I’ve never seen anyone so shaken up. Of course, by then there was no power anywhere, so those lines were all dead; but she didn’t have any way of knowing that.”
One of the six Doric columns that marked stately, 141-year-old Rumsey Hall on the edge of Cornwall Village Green as a classic Greek Revival building had rotted and fallen a year earlier and then was replaced as restoration slowly got under way. In seconds the tornado ripped off part of its roof and kicked out another column.
A house and cottage next door on Bolton Hill Road dated to the early 1800s, and they took a beating, too; but they weren’t empty. Ben Gray, Dr. Anna Timell, and their three children — Benjamin, 12; Maja, 6; Christen, S — were all there, and Gray’s mother, Claire, 77, was in an upstairs bedroom.
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