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'All hell started breaking loose:' Isaias spawns tornadoes, kills one in Delaware on Tuesday

Isabel Hughes
Delaware News Journal

Tropical Storm Isaias pummeled Delaware Tuesday morning, spawning tornadoes, destroying homes, felling trees and killing one woman.

The storm, which made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane Monday night, had been downgraded by the time it reached Delaware. But it still packed a punch that crushed cars, flooded roads and knocked out power to close to 100,000 households.

Police have not released the identity of the woman who was killed, but said she was assessing storm damage outside her Milford home around 11:45 a.m. when a branch fell from a tree and killed her.

GOV. CARNEY: State of emergency declared in Delaware after Tropical Storm Isaias

LIVE UPDATES TUESDAY:Tornadoes spotted 4 times in Delaware; updated forecast; homes and cars destroyed

The storm also injured a handful of people, including three who were taken to the hospital after first responders rescued them from flooding in Hockessin's Lantana Square. Several others across Delaware were also injured after roofs and trees collapsed on their homes.

A tree is down on Town Alley in Georgetown, possibly due to lightning. Several homes are without power.

Residents began assessing Isaias' damage late Tuesday morning as its strong winds and heavy rain pushed north. Cleanup continued Tuesday evening from the storm, and the tornados it produced, and will likely continue for days.

Gov. John Carney issued a state of emergency to coordinate response and recovery efforts following the damage from the storm around the state.

According to the National Weather Service, the first tornado touched down in the Kent County community of Sandtown at 8:30 a.m. Less than 30 minutes later, at 8:58 a.m., another touchdown, witnessed by several people, was reported in Dover.

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Ryan Coon, pastor of Calvary Church in Dover, said he was at an eye appointment on South State Street when the power went out. He then received a tornado warning on his phone.

A car is crushed on Westview Terrace south of Dover.

He said people started feeling pressure in their ears. When he went outside, he saw multiple trees down and what looked like damage from a tornado.

"It came out of nowhere. Everyone’s safe, everyone’s good," he said in a Facebook video. "That was a legit tornado that just landed, no joke."

While Dover landscaper Brian Anderson didn't see the twister, when he arrived for clean up at Cedar Chase apartments in Dover afterward, he said it looked like a bomb had gone off.

Those on the property at the time described "scary" shaking and loud bangs around 9 a.m. One person said it sounded like “all hell started breaking loose.” 

At least a dozen downed or broken trees dotted the Greens at Cedar Chase apartment complex as residents milled outside, surveying the damage from a tornado that was confirmed to have touched down in the area.

Kristin Nwadike, who was at the complex visiting her boyfriend, said she was preparing to go to work when the tornado went through.

“I was like ‘No ma’am, I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “This was just really fast, it was in minutes. Everything felt like it was shaking.”

Six hours later, at least a dozen downed or broken trees dotted the complex as residents milled outside, surveying the damage.

Carol Castiglione, who was walking her dog in the complex, said she heard a unique, deep sound around 9 a.m., but didn’t realize how bad the damage was.

“I saw a little bit of siding blowing... then when I came out here, I thought, 'Oh my god this is horrible,'" she said.

The National Weather Services confirmed at least two more tornado touchdowns Tuesday, along Route 13 in Smyrna and on Gum Bush Road in Townsend. It's not yet known whether it was four individual twisters or "a long-track single tornado that caused damage at more than one location," said Delaware climatologist Daniel Leathers.

At least a dozen downed or broken trees dotted the Cedar Chase apartment complex as residents milled outside, surveying the damage from a tornado that was confirmed to have touched down in the area.

The state "will have to wait to see how many individual tornadoes are confirmed" by the weather service, he said. As of Tuesday evening, the national agency said it was leaning towards two separate twisters in Delaware.

The storm produced wind speeds of 60-plus mph and the highest recorded wind speed in the state was a 96 mph gust in Smyrna around 9:15 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.

Rainfall totals reached as high as six inches near Arden and more than four inches fell in Clayton.

Though the tornadoes caused some of the most significant damage on Tuesday, Isaias also wreaked havoc with gusts brought from tropical storm winds.

In Lewes, residents on Sunset Lane said the storm seemed to have passed when strong gusts suddenly started blowing in off the nearby water, uprooting at least five trees in the small neighborhood. One of those trees fell on Jacqi Detweiler’s car.

"I heard a bunch of loud banging, the power went out and then I looked out and saw the tree fall," Detweiler said.

She yelled from her porch before taking cover back inside the house. A few doors down, another fallen tree narrowly missed the home where Deborah Bodine lives.

"This is the first time I’ve ever dealt with something like this," she said. “It was just chaos."

Further north in Middletown, Frank Bailey, chief of the Middletown Volunteer Hose Company, said every neighborhood they responded to had several homes with shingles and siding blown off.

“The whole backside of houses were torn up really bad. There is a lot of structural damage in the Middletown area,” he said. “It was really bad.”

Bailey, who has been chief since 2003, said they did not keep track of how many homes they went to, but he has not seen this kind of wreckage in many years. He is not aware of any severe injuries.

Of the developments the company was called out to help, Bailey said Summit Bridge Farms and Brick Mill Farm in Middletown and Brennan Estates in Bear suffered the most damage.

Lani Orellana, who lives in Brennan Estates off Summit Bridge Road, had 20-foot trees fall down, shingles missing off the roof, siding gone and interior ceiling damage.

She was taking care of her newborn and waiting for her husband to get home before the storm hit. It was only raining when he pulled his car into the driveway. By the time he was in the house, the storm hit. 

Tropical Storm Isaias damaged multiple houses on Amberwood Drive in the Brennen Estates in Bear.

Orellana said the house was shaking, the sky was dark and it was like a scene out of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It took us by surprise because I was preoccupied with the baby,” Orellana said. “It was so quick, it was shocking. I didn’t realize what was happening while it was going on because it was so terrifying.”

Though Isaias' winds were remarkable, they weren't the only cause of significant damage Tuesday.

Heavy rainfall from the storm also impacted numerous communities, which saw creeks run over and water-filled parking lots consume cars, likely totaling them.

On Governor Printz Boulevard in Edgemoor, at least two cars were almost completely submerged and several others were also stuck in water Tuesday afternoon.

One man, who had driven to the Food Lion on Governor Printz, said he’s seen water pool on the road before, but nothing like this.

"I’ve seen spots where areas get flooded, but I haven’t seen cars get stuck in it," he said. "People were stopping ...  and turned back around, but some tried to make it through and couldn’t."

At least two cars were almost completely submerged and others were stuck in water due to flooding on Governor Printz Boulevard near E Lea Boulevard in Edgemoor Tuesday morning. The flooding is due to Topical Storm Isaias.

Pointing to one car that was almost completely submerged, the man said he saw the driver try to drive through the water before giving up.

"I guess when they tried to get through, the car just shut off," he said. "The water is just getting higher and higher."

Rising floodwater also required first responders to rescue a motorist and several other people in Hockessin's Lantana Square shopping center. 

New Castle County Paramedics said in a Facebook post a car got stuck in a drainage basin, trapping the driver. Bystanders who came to the driver's aid also became trapped in the "swift water."

Numerous fire departments responded to help, ultimately rescuing all the victims. Three were taken by ambulance to Christiana Hospital.

While Tropical Storm Isaias whipped inland areas with damaging winds, tornadoes and flash flooding, the storm largely spared the beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay that drive Delaware's tourism economy.

The storm's more inland track, combined with its rapid forward speed, meant the coast really wasn't hit hard enough or long enough to cause any worrisome erosion issues, said Michael Powell, head of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's shoreline and waterway management section.

"But, it’s the first week of August," he said. "We still have two full months of heightened tropical storm activity to make it through. But we made it through this one."

Winds and rain from Tropical Storm Isaias gusted across Broadkill Beach on Tuesday morning.

All the beaches Powell visited on Tuesday from Pickering Beach down south along the ocean coast appeared to sustain little damage from rough surf, and he observed no significant damage to the dunes. A few beaches along the Delaware Bay in Kent County were inaccessible due to downed trees blocking roadways, he said.

"The impacts from Tropical Storm Isaias will be unnoticeable by next weekend," he said.

Contributing: Brandon Holveck, Delaware News Journal; Maddy Lauria, Delaware News Journal; Jenna Miller, Delaware News Journal; Jeff Neiburg, Delaware News Journal; Shannon Marvel McNaught, Dover Post; Emily Lytle, Dover Post; Amanda Parrish, Middletown Transcript

Send story tips or ideas to Isabel Hughes at ihughes@delawareonline.com or 302-324-2785. For all things breaking news, follow her on Twitter at @izzihughes_