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Connecticut Tornado of 1989

“The rain started blowing in, and then it was coming down through the kitchen ceiling. There was a lot of tin on the roof, and it blew that off. The woodhouse off the kitchen, it ripped that roof right off, rafters and everything.

“It was getting a little lighter, so I ran upstairs to get a look out on the yard. The chicken house was blown away, and the barn was knocked flat. With the addition we put on it, the barn was 120 feet long. We’ve got beef cows and pigs and goats and sheep, so we all rushed right out.

“A cow and bull in the barn were dead,” Kubish said, “and a cow and bull outside were dead, and Albert, my old white billy goat, he’d been blown into the side of the barn where we keep the winter supply of hay. He was pinned upside down with a beam on top of his head, a 12″-by-12″ oak beam that went the length of the barn. I got my chain saw and cut it away, but the three of us still had a devil of a time lifting it off him.

“He got to his feet and just stood there,” Kubish said. “Albert was all right, but it was very, very close.”

Herbert Lape got into his new white, four-wheel-drive Toyota wagon in West Cornwall and set out to pick up his wife Madeline, who was working at the town hall 3-1/2 miles away down in the village.

“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.

Updated Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

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One Response to Connecticut Tornado of 1989

  1. Rick Mc May 2, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    I was on the air of an fm radio station on the 19th floor of a building in Hartford. Outside I saw black clouds roll by at eye level. I am from Michigan where tornados are common in the spring. I walked next door where the am studio was located. The announcer was also from the mid-west. I said to him, it’s a good thing they don’t have tornadoes in Connecticut. Fifteen minutes the news reports came in.

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