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Blown Away

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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com

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