Blown Away

It las­ted just seconds, but the tor­nado that hit North­east Av­en­ue on May 18 will re­quire weeks of cleanup and re­pairs.

Rick Van­gas didn’t fin­ish his lunch one day last week. What’s a sand­wich when you’re dodging a twister?

That’s what swept through a few North­east Av­en­ue prop­er­ties on May 18 shortly be­fore 2 p.m.

“It las­ted about fif­teen seconds,” said Keith Walsh, co-own­er of Ace High Auto, as he stood in his drive­way look­ing at the dam­age to his car-re­pair shop near Bustleton Av­en­ue and Red Li­on Road.

“We were just eat­ing lunch,” he said last Thursday. “I looked out the win­dow and saw the sky get­ting black. It was loud. It soun­ded like a freight train.”

And then it was over.

“TV people were ask­ing if any of us shot video,” he said, adding he and his co-work­ers didn’t have much time to even think about tap­ing.

Van­gas, an Ace High em­ploy­ee, said Thursday that nobody had time to do any­thing.

Joe Miketta, a met­eor­o­lo­gist with the Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice in Mount Holly, N.J., said the tor­nado that hit North­east Av­en­ue was a weak one, des­pite its roar and 75-mph winds. Tor­na­dos in this part of the coun­try also are very short-lived, he said, so Walsh’s 15-second es­tim­ate of the storm’s dur­a­tion is about right.

It’s a double-edged sword, Miketta said.

Stronger tor­na­dos like some re­cent storms in Alabama “are easy to see on the radar, but they kill a lot of people,” he said.

“Up here, they don’t kill or do as much dam­age, but they’re hard to see on radar. They come and go very quickly.”

By the time people can be warned, the tor­nado is gone, he ad­ded.

Al­most 13 years ago — early on June 1, 1998 — a twister hit North­east Phil­adelphia at Southamp­ton and McN­ulty roads.

That 1:30 a.m. tor­nado “peeled roofs right off of ware­houses, buckled steel beams, knocked down walls, shattered win­dows, crushed equip­ment and plucked util­ity poles from the ground like weeds,” the North­east Times re­por­ted.

Miketta said tor­nado strength is meas­ured on what is called the En­hanced Fujita scale, which runs from 0, the weak­est, to 5, the strongest. The tor­nado that hit the North­east on May 18 was an EF-0. The twister that struck in 1998 was an EF-1, he said.

Walsh es­tim­ated last week’s weak tor­nado caused about $10,000 in dam­age to his busi­ness.

He may be one of the more for­tu­nate of the tor­nado’s vic­tims.

The roof of an ad­ja­cent beer dis­trib­ut­or is no longer on top of that build­ing, the roof was dam­aged on the nearby Benny the Bum’s res­taur­ant, and R&R Car Re­pair, which sits be­hind Ace High, was crushed like a bug.

Most of the rear prop­erty’s roof is either gone or in­side the build­ing. Ex­pens­ive cars were covered with the debris last Thursday. Cars parked out­side the build­ing, which can be best seen from an ad­ja­cent su­per­mar­ket park­ing lot, were dam­aged heav­ily, too.

Roof­ers were quickly mak­ing re­pairs to a nearby apart­ment build­ing. Walsh poin­ted to a new roof on one of the units.

“The roof­ers put that up this morn­ing,” he said.

The Amer­ic­an Red Cross of South­east­ern Pennsylvania as­sisted four adults who live on the 9900 block North­east Ave. by giv­ing them money with which to buy clothes and gro­cer­ies.

Most of that dam­age to Walsh’s busi­ness was to the build­ing’s “A” frame and to doors and some win­dows.

Walsh said he slept in his car out­side his busi­ness on Wed­nes­day night to keep an eye on things. He ad­ded that some of the cars parked out­side his shop were dam­aged as well.

Asked if he’s ever seen odd weath­er on the prop­erty, Walsh said, “It gets windy.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

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