Tornado smashes homes in Sussex

LAUREL — It was a twister.

As emergency personnel on Monday afternoon continued damage assessment and recovery operations, the National Weather Service confirmed that an EF-2 tornado was part of the violent storm system that rumbled through Sussex County early Monday morning, causing extensive damage in the Laurel and Seaford area.

Estimated maximum wind speeds reached 120 mph, according to the NWS.

A line of severe thunderstorms that swept through western Sussex County just before 4 a.m. snapped utility poles, downed trees, knocked out power to several thousand homes, damaged numerous structures and scattered debris over a wide area.

Laurel Fire Department, the incident command center for the emergency, reported nine buildings severely damaged and condemned, and more than 350 households and businesses still without power Monday afternoon, some of which could stay dark until midday today.

As many as two dozen structures were damaged during the severe weather.

Of those, seven houses and two commercial buildings have been condemned and deemed unsafe for occupation by the Sussex County Technical Rescue team, which spent the day surveying and evaluating damage in the affected areas.

There were seven alarms during the storm, including a residential rescue resulting from a tree falling into a house. There was one injury reported, an adult male who was transported to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford with minor injuries.

“We were very, very fortunate in that only one subject was reported injured and transported to Nanticoke Hospital with minor injuries,” said Mike Lowe, assistant chief and public information officer for the Laurel Fire Department.

Delaware Electric Cooperative’s website in the immediate aftermath of the storm reported approximately 3,000 customers were without power. By late morning, DEC crews had restored power to all but several hundred homes.

Meanwhile, Delmarva Power reported that approximately 350 customers in the Laurel area were without service as of 3 p.m. Monday. Nearly 50 crew members are expected to work around the clock to replace downed poles and lines. Service, though, could remain out to some customers through noon Tuesday.

For the latest outage information, visit

It all started around 3:30 a.m. as slumbering Sussex Countians were awakened by loud claps of thunder and emergency beeps on communication devices with alerts of a tornado warning.

The entire roof of this house on Hardscrabble Road near Pepper Road was ripped off by the tornado that swept through the area.

The roof from a house (pictured above) on SR 20 was ripped off and landed about 50 yards away.

For more storm photos, visit:

At 3:43 a.m., Laurel Fire Department and Sussex County EMS was alerted for a residential rescue.

“Upon responding we were advised that there was a tree into a house with a subject trapped. Weather conditions were very severe with the wind and the rain,” Mr. Lowe said. “Our major task in arriving was to determine just how widespread the event was. And obviously it was more than just one location. We had to determine exactly how far it stretched so we could prepare our resources and our response.”

The path and damage of the storm stretched approximately from the Portsville area west of Laurel to the Hardscrabble area southwest of Georgetown. The storm appears to have followed a path that ran parallel just north of US Route 9.

“What we saw is it appeared that the path was from east of Bethel, just south of Camp Road, south of Bethel Road, and over to Rt. 13, just south of Laurel Village trailer park,” Mr. Lowe said. “We are extremely fortunate that it appears the majority of the storm missed Laurel Village.”

Laurel School District cancelled school Monday, Seaford School District operated on a two-hour delay and Sussex Technical High School implemented an 11 a.m. dismissal with all after-school activities to be rescheduled.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., preliminarily confirmed a tornado rated an EF-1 with winds of approximately 95 mph traveled for just over six miles, carving a path of destruction that measured only 50 yards wide in some spots.

The NWS will continue to evaluate data before making a final determination.

As of late Monday afternoon, the full extent of damage was not fully known as Laurel Fire Department personnel in conjunction with members of Sussex County Technical Rescue continued damage assessment.

Laurel Fire Department is coordinating the ongoing emergency response with numerous first responders, government agencies, public utilities and other disaster response teams, and asks the public be aware of ongoing operations to restore power, clear roadways and assist affected residents.

The American Red Cross is assisting those families and property owners affected.

Laurel’s initial response was supplemented by fire personnel from Blades, Seaford and Delmar and Gumboro, which stood by for Laurel at Station 81 so “we could make access to these residents and determine their needs and if there were any further injuries,” Mr. Lowe said.

Initially, a dozen roads in Sussex County were closed due to downed power lines, downed trees or flooding. As of the Delaware Department of Transportation’s 2:45 p.m. update Monday, roads that remained closed included:

• US 13 southbound (one lane closed) from Boyce Road to Discount Land Road. The lane will remain closed for several days;

• Airport Road from Old Hickory Road to Dogwood Road remains closed (expected to reopen sometime Monday afternoon);

• Camp Road from Seaford Road to Discount Road, which will remain closed indefinitely, as will Seaford Road from Camp Road to Discount Land Road.

DelDOT advises motorists to drive with caution on roads, pay attention to barricades and do not drive through standing water.

If you see a flooded roadway ahead, turn around and take an alternate route to your destination.

For the latest road closure information, please visit

Suzanne Farris said the storm should serve as an awakening.

“Great time for a reminder to have an inclement weather plan,” Ms. Farris said. “I’ve been seeing a lot of people posting that they didn’t know because they have their alerts off … pretty scary!”

How to report storm damage in Delaware

With the aftermath of Delaware’s first spring storm now starting, here are some things to help you with storm damage to your property:

• Ensure everyone is safe and it is safe to enter the area

• Contact your insurance company before you begin cleaning up or making repairs

• Take pictures of any damage you see

• After you’ve taken photographs, make repairs that will prevent further damage (cover broken windows, damaged walls, and leaking roofs), but DO NOT make permanent repairs

If you suffer property loss, your insurance company should inspect the property first and an agreement should be reached on the cost of permanent repairs. Save all receipts, including those from temporary repairs, for your insurance adjuster. With proper documentation and your full cooperation, you can avoid delays in processing your claims.

“I’d like to emphasize the importance of taking the aforementioned actions when making a claim with your insurance company,” said Delaware Insurance Commissioner Navarro. “These are important steps that will greatly assist you if the need arises to make a claim. The storm last night that brought significant damage to parts of Sussex County and some other areas of our state is a reminder that these events can happen with little or no warning and change lives forever.”

In the unfortunate event that you suffer property loss or damage, a Home Inventory makes the claims process much easier. Including the brand name, model and serial numbers, date of purchase, receipts, and photos in the inventory helps the insurance company make a quick and accurate assessment of your loss.

An alternative to a written inventory is to photograph or video each room of your home and its respective content. The more detailed the photographs or video (open drawers, closets, sheds and garages), the more accurately your loss can be evaluated.

For posterity, email inventories, photographs, policies and emergency lists to yourself and/or a trusted friend or family member living outside of the storm’s threat. Keeping your insurance policy, inventory, and quick reference list together and stored in a waterproof, fireproof box, or safe, is a good idea. If you evacuate, remember to take this information with you.

Find a printable Home Inventory here:

If you have any problems processing your claims, do not hesitate to reach out to the Delaware Department of Insurance at 302-674-7300.

Visit the website at

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