Isaias turns deadly

City of Dover electric crews conducting cleanup operations after the storm moved through the state Tuesday. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh) .

DOVER — Tropical Storm Isaias left a woman dead in Milford and a swath of destruction around the state after spawning an outbreak of tornadoes Tuesday morning.

Delaware State Police said they found a Milford woman deceased after a tree branch fell on her outside her home in Milford during high winds and tropical storm conditions brought by Isaias.

At around 11:45 a.m., troopers responded to North Shore Drive for a call of a deceased adult female. No foul play is suspected, but the investigation is ongoing.

“The victim was outside assessing storm damage and was struck with a tree branch that fell from a tree,” said State Police Senior Corporal Heather Pepper.

The woman’s body was taken to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science for an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death.

Several tornadoes that spun off the tropical system brought damage to several communities around the state — hitting Dover particularly hard.

“There were several measured sustained winds of tropical storm force, which is 39 miles an hour or higher,” said Alex Staarmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “There were numerous gusts of 50 to 60 mph, especially across the coastal areas of Delaware Bay and oceanfront.

First responders checking welfare of residents in Dover’s Sherwood development after winds from tropical storm Isaias uprooted trees Tuesday. ( Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“Additionally, there was a few tornadoes that appeared to have touched down, especially around Dover and north towards the border of Kent County and New Castle County and Middletown. A few of those were confirmed by emergency management and radar, but we haven’t been able to go and survey the damage yet. That will probably come within the next couple of days or so.”

In Dover, Mayor Robin Christiansen issued a state of emergency at around 9:30 Tuesday morning, imposing driving restrictions and asking the city’s residents to avoid any unnecessary travel.

In the storm’s aftermath, street poles were left askew on the southern edge of Division Street in Dover across from Booker T. Washington Elementary School and Union Baptist Church, and several homes in the area had received damage from the high winds. Most traffic lights nearby weren’t operating, and a Dover police patrol car blocked the road from traffic.

Dover firemen arrive to help cleanup portions of a building wall that was ripped from a building on S. Governors Ave from Isaias’ strong winds. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh) .

On Del. 10, near Moore’s Lake, it appeared as if a tornado had touched down, cutting a path through the area. At nearby Calvary Church and across the road into an adjoining neighborhood, trees had snapped at their trunks and damage to several homes was visible.

“We did not fare well … millions of dollars in damage,” said Kay Sass, assistant city manager and emergency management director for the city of Dover.

Dover mayor surveys damage

The mayor made two drives through damaged areas of the city Tuesday, noting major damage to homes and buildings, the city’s electrical distribution system and uprooted trees.

“The Electric Department is doing yeoman work trying to restore electric safely and quickly. All other city departments have worked tirelessly to clear trees and streets of debris,” he said.

Wind from Isaias storm caused damage at the Coast Guard Station in Bowers on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“The police and fire departments have also been on the front lines keeping our city and our citizens safe. City staff have coordinated all recovery efforts under the supervision of Kay Sass, along with other department heads. I thank and, once again, commend all city employees for their hard work.”

He added: “Finally, I want to thank the citizens of Dover who have weathered this storm and damage and neighbors helping neighbors, cutting up trees and cleaning up debris. Community is what makes our city great.”

City of Dover officials said they were working diligently to restore power to the downtown area Tuesday afternoon.

“We have debris in many parts of the city, we have trees on homes and (have) established connection with the Red Cross to assist those who, unfortunately, lost their homes,” they wrote on their Facebook page. “Life safety is naturally our priority. There have been several reports of possible tornado activity in some areas of town.”

Tornado reports
in Smyrna, Townsend

There was also a report of a tornado just off U.S. 13 in Smyrna that caused damage. A nearby wind sensor recorded a gust of 96 mph at 9:09 a.m., according to the NWS.

Another tornado that touched down near Del. 1 south in Townsend left the area littered with several tractor-trailers on their sides after being blown over from the wind. There was a straight line of damage in the area, including trees down. A billboard was destroyed and the siding was removed from a nearby building.

While Isaias hit hard, it was a fast-moving storm, having delivered most of its punch by around 10:45 in the morning Tuesday.

“From the rain threat, especially the northern part of the state around New Castle County, (it) had experienced some flash flooding from excessive rainfall,” Mr. Staarmann said. “Upwards of 6 inches of rain has fallen across the northern part of the state, … while Kent County got about 2 to 3 (inches), and then Sussex County is generally around an inch.

“I think most of the rain and stuff kind of moved in before daybreak. The heaviest of the rain moved in overnight (Monday) night. As of (12:30 p.m. Tuesday), most of the rain is done, though there’s still some light rain that’s going to pass across the northern part of the state.”

Ryan Coon, pastor of Calvary Church in Dover, was one of many people who witnessed the destruction the storm caused in Dover. He posted a Facebook Live video around 9 a.m. Tuesday, saying he was at an eye appointment on South State Street when the power went out, and he received a frightening tornado warning on his phone.

When he got a look outside of the Delaware Eye Care Center, he said he saw multiple trees down and what looked like damage from a tornado.

“It came out of nowhere,” he said on his video. “Everyone’s safe. Everyone’s good.

“If you get a tornado warning on your phone (Tuesday) here in Dover, Delaware, or anywhere for the next couple hours, you may want to listen to it. Because that was a legit tornado that just landed, no joke, five to ten minutes ago, right outside Delaware Eye Care Center.”

Milford sees major wind

Milford’s City Manager Mark Whitfield assessed damage of the tropical storm’s high winds to his area, particularly on the southwest side of town.

“It was either a downburst or a tornado,” he said. “The way trees were twisted and snapped looks like it may have been a tornado; however, I do not have a confirmation on that.”

He said the area around Haven Lake was particularly hard-hit and that there were many power lines down.

Rick Deputy, the chief of Milford’s Carlisle Fire Co., said to his knowledge, no one had actually seen a twister come through, but that the significant damage to the areas around Meadowbrook and Evergreen lanes was consistent with a tornado.

“There were trees down covering up houses down there, and the roadways were all blocked by large trees,” he said. “Just by looking at the route it took through there, it appeared that something had gone through there.”

Chief Deputy said there was damage across all of Milford, but mostly on the city’s outskirts. His department was responding to calls nonstop until about 1 p.m.

He said “trees down into structures, trees down on wires and wires down” made up the bulk of those calls.

“I do know of a number of homes out through there that have structural damage, roof damage,” Mr. Whitfield said. “One tree went completely through a home and smashed a good piece of the home.”

As of about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, the skies in Milford had cleared and the city’s attention moved to the cleanup effort.

“We’re doing our best to get to the power lines,” Mr. Whitfield said. “The first thing we have to do is get through a lot of the vegetation and trees that are down in order to get to the power lines to begin with. We’re still working on that.”

Chief Deputy said other areas of the state — including Dover, Camden and Selbyville — were hit harder than Milford was. The widespread damage is a reason the National Weather Service has been unable to confirm exactly what type of weather event struck southwest Milford, he said.

“I think once we get everything cleaned up here, if we get that done by (Tuesday) night, we’ll probably go up to Dover and assist them,” Mr. Whitfield said.

Impact felt in Sussex County

Near Millsboro, strong winds felled large branches and damaged a greenhouse at the Rieley farm property on Gravel Hill Road, several miles north of town.

“We had it buttoned up pretty tight, but somehow the wind got inside and lifted it,” said John Rieley. “I think it’s totaled, actually.”

The fierce wind blew through around 8 a.m.

“I don’t know if it was a tornado or just a really strong, sustained gust of wind that came through,” Mr. Rieley said.

At 8:18 a.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey, had issued an alert for central Sussex County for a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado. The storm was over Millsboro heading north at 60 mph.

Around 8 a.m., the towering tree that had stood the test of time for at least a century on Riverside Drive was no match for Tropical Storm Isaias. It fell into the Nanticoke River, along the bulkhead of the Hollis family residence.

“My grandson, Tanner, heard it,” said John Hollis. “If the gusts were up to 70 (mph), then it was 75.”

The tree was already fully grown when Mr. Hollis’ father-in-law purchased the property in the 1940s. Not only did it serve as one half of the hammock setup with a nearby tree, it was a favorite perch for a variety of waterfowl, including bald eagles and osprey.

“It is like a waterfowl parade in this area, just beautiful,” said Mr. Hollis. “I think that tree was a favorite perch.”

Now, it rests extending out into the Nanticoke River, partially submerged.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get it out of the river,” Mr. Hollis said.

Power outages abundant

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, the Delaware Electric Cooperative reported 11% of its customer base was without power. That included 2,666 customers in the Millsboro/19966 ZIP code, 2,462 in the Georgetown/19947 ZIP code and 1,466 in the Lewes area.

The first outages reported by DEC occurred around 8 a.m.

“It has been a very eventful morning for DEC crews,” said Jeremy Tucker, manager of marketing and communications for DEC. “We began responding to outages at about 7:30 a.m., and linemen have been working nonstop since then. We expect DEC crews, contract tree trimming and other utility crews to work to restore power through the night.

“We’ve restored power to about 10,000 homes so far. Our goal is to restore power to a majority of members by later (Tuesday), but some members may be in the dark through a portion of (today). I can’t remember a time where there have been so many tornadoes on Delmarva. It was stunning to watch unfold.”

Delmarva Power had 1,483 customers experiencing power outages around 2 p.m. Tuesday. Many were concentrated in the Rehoboth Beach area and north/central Sussex County.

Some residents around downstate lost power again Tuesday evening and the power company reported 1,448 active outages as of 9:24 p.m. affecting 33,481 customers on Delmarva.

Power also was out in the city of Seaford on Tuesday, but was restored to some customers by early afternoon.

Storm affects parks

Damage due to Tropical Storm Isaias caused Kent County to close a number of parks to the public. Downed trees and limbs, damaged boardwalks and debris littered on trails created unsafe conditions for park patrons.

The following parks have been affected: Hunn Nature Park in Dover, Tidbury Creek County Park and its dog park in Dover, Lebanon Landing and its fishing pier and boat ramp in Dover, Browns Branch County Park in Houston and the Brecknock Park Nature Trail Extension in Camden.

County park staff are working to restore this county service, and patrons are asked to not access these parks or areas for their own safety. Kent County will issue an update once these parks are open to the public again.