Violent weather rocks eastern N.H., Mass.
Possible twisters, large hail reported

By David Abel and Ari Bloomekatz, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent
Boston Globe July 12, 2006

A series of fast-moving storms that may have spawned tornadoes and dropped baseball-size hailstones yesterday left thousands of residents in eastern New Hampshire and Massachusetts without power, flooded houses, sparked fires, toppled trees, and damaged hundreds of cars, authorities said.

At least nine children at a camp were taken to hospitals after lightning struck a tree in Kingston, N.H., police said. None of the children had life-threatening injuries.

As many as 10,000 people in Massachusetts lost power as a result of the storms, most in the Merrimac River Valley, said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. ``We're not aware of any injuries due to the storm" in Massachusetts, he said.

A spokeswoman for NStar said that as many as 1,200 customers, most of them north of Boston, lost power because of lightning and strong winds . She said the company expected that the power would be back on in most of the homes last night.

Two suspected tornadoes touched down yesterday afternoon in the small town of Wendell in Franklin County , damaging homes and causing power outages, police there said.

Last night, 642 homes there still had no power, the result of 20 electrical poles downed during the storm, Judge said. He said lightning strikes triggered fires at several homes .

In Worcester County, the National Weather Service received reports of penny-size hail in Hardwick and fallen trees in Boylston, Oxford, Grafton, and Westborough.

In Marblehead, meteorologists said, 3-inch hailstones fell, among the largest ever measured in the state. The biggest hailstones on record were 3.5 inches in diameter and fell during a 1965 storm that hit Ipswich, said William Babcock , a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton.

Lightning strikes sparked about a half-dozen fires and a combination of strong winds and storm surge flipped 40 boats and smashed several docks and gangways at the Corinthian Yacht Club, said Marblehead police Sergeant Detective Marion Keating. The National Weather Service said winds in the area reached 98 miles per hour and may have been from a tornado .

``Masts were thrown through boats like spears," Keating said. ``It looked like a combat zone."

A storm yesterday afternoon forced Teresa Collins to sprint to her truck. The dispatcher for the Marblehead police and fire departments said she feared the large hailstones would shatter her windshield.

``It was frightening," Collins said. ``It was very sudden and very violent."

Successive waves of hail in Exeter, N.H., pelted car dealerships, damaging more than a hundred cars, people said. Chunks of ice shattered windows, dented hoods, and filled the seats of cars.

``We're just sitting here in awe of what took place," said Joe Baldi , a salesman at Gary Blake Motorcars, where more than 40 cars were damaged. ``The skylights were blown out of the building itself . . . on the lot, we lost sunroofs, windshields, side mirrors, and turn signals -- you name it. All the doors are dented, like someone was out there with a baseball bat." Baldi said several motorists ducked into the building to escape the storm, but at least one woman suffered minor injuries when her windshield was shattered while she was driving.

The damage was twice as severe several hundred yards away at an affiliated dealership, Gary Blake Saab , where more than 80 cars were damaged, he said.

``I've never seen anything like that before," said Brian O'Neil , a salesman at the Saab dealership.

``It was hail almost the size of your fist," he said. ``It started coming down as maybe marble-sized, then built up to golf-ball sized. It looked like it was going to let up, but then the second part of the storm hit, and there were some chunks the size of a baseball." At the Walgreens nearby , the roof caved in as a result of the weather, police said. ``All of a sudden you heard this noise, and you're seeing this huge piece of sky, and people are screaming: `Get out! Get out!' " said Deborah Gremlitz of Durham, N.H., who was in the Walgreens when the roof caved in. She took four Walgreens employees in her dented Honda Odyssey to a Staples store to wait out the storm.

``I had to sit with my hands over my ears," Gremlitz said. ``It was deafening. I felt like I was in a war zone."

Strong winds accompanied the storm, whipping tree limbs and tossing signs.

``There was one car that looked like a piece of hail came through the rear window and . . . damaged the inside of the windshield," O'Neil said. ``The hail was coming down sideways at one point. We could watch it swirl around . . . There's a painted fence along the side of our building that looks like a machine gun hit it."

At Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, several school buildings were flooded , said Julie Quinn , a spokesman for the school.

At Camp Lincoln in Kingston, N.H., lightning struck a pine, and at least nine campers who said they felt a tingling sensation were taken to hospitals, police said.

An official at Exeter Hospital said he had never seen anything like yesterday's storm. ``It was absolutely crazy," said Ron Goodspeed , the hospital's director of community relations.

``On campus here, there were over 250 cars that were basically totaled; it was like somebody took a hammer and just hammered the heck out of them."

Michael Saunders of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Richard P. Cherecwich contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at