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Microburst downs trees, sinks boats

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POSTED: August 10, 2011 9:08 a.m.
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A downed tree lies at the Dorchester Civic Center on Tuesday after a Monday night storm.

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Four boats sank, a number of trees fell and one small area lost power during a thunderstorm that shook the coast Monday night.

“Everything seemed to be limited to the coastal area completely, from Midway east,” said Mike Hodges, director of the Liberty County Emergency Management Agency. Every county from McIntosh to Chatham reported damage as of Tuesday morning, he said.

“We don’t believe that there was any tornadic activity,” he said. “We think that there was such heavy rain in such a short time that there was a combination of a microburst and straight-line winds.”

There were no reports of injuries, Hodges said.

The whipping winds downed multiple trees, with one report of a tree falling on a structure, according to Eastern District Fire/Rescue Chief Joe Martin.

Brigdon Road was closed for a time because two trees were downed in the road, and Lake Pamona Road also had some downed trees, Martin said. All roads were reopened by Tuesday morning.

Rains also inundated the area, with 3-5 inches of downfall causing local floods.

In Sunbury, Martin and members of his team were preparing to launch a rescue operation — to look for two boaters who had not come in before the storm — when their boat, Station 20 Marine One, foundered.

“We were trying to leave for a search-and-rescue mission, but the conditions were too bad right at the dock, and we got swamped at the dock,” Martin said.

The search team was not able to continue the mission, which eventually was called off by the person who reported it, Martin said. He assumed that meant that the boaters made it in safely.

But the mission put the rescuers right in the thick of the storm, Martin said.

“During the storm, I was knee-deep in water in this boat trying to make sure it didn’t go down any further,” he said. “It’s interesting — we had a lot of lightning, a lot of lightning strikes around us. It was an adventure.”

Though unconfirmed, Hodges said his department believes that a waterspout likely caused several boats to go down.

The rescue team worked until after 11 p.m. at the Merchants Wharf Marina to pull out of the water its own boat and the three others that were downed, Martin said. The rescue team pulled its boat out of the water Tuesday morning to inspect it for damage.

“We know we’ve lost the one engine so far,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do about that — a pair of new engines, that’s about $40,000.”

The boat, which was purchased about four years ago, was the team’s sole vessel for offshore operations and would need at least a new pair of engines to be up and running again, Martin said.

“We’re out — we just can’t go anymore,” he said about having to suspend rescue missions until the engine situation is resolved. “And we’re handling anywhere from 30-50 people a year.”

Next door at Sunbury Crab Co. Marina, a spokesperson said they had five staff members out on the docks to ensure the boats were safe. They did not report any damage, though boat owners have been calling and emailing to check on the status of their vessels.

A tree fell across one power line on Maxwell Street in Sunbury and interrupted power to about 15 customers, Coastal Electric Cooperative spokesman Mark Bolton said. The power went out at about 9:58 p.m. and was restored by 10:30 p.m.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service say radar images indicated that a tornado had formed around 7:21 p.m. near Oak Level, roughly eight miles southeast of Richmond Hill, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. It appeared to move east.

 

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