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Continuing to rebuild

Ace High Auto was one of a few businesses on Northeast Avenue affected by the tornado that touched down on May 18. The apartments above the business have been declared uninhabitable. JENNY SWIGODA / TIMES PHOTO

It’s been more than a month since a small tornado hit the Northeast, yet local businesses aren’t out of the storm yet.

Jack Hanratty said he constantly catches himself looking up at the sky. Why not? Last month, the sky looked in on him.

He and his boss, Bill Deckard, owner of the Beer Hut beer distributor on Northeast Boulevard, were unloading cases when a tornado hit in midafternoon May 18.

Hanratty said he was standing on a pallet held up by a forklift stacking cases in a loft “when we watched the roof lift about three feet,” he said.

“I could see the sky,” he recalled last week.

Deckard said the twister started pushing down on the metal of the roof, but then the wind and the rain got in the building.

“It kind of looked like a Japanese movie with Godzilla,” he said.

Hanratty said they watched the roof peel off as he jumped down and hustled toward the front of the building. The storm hit and disappeared quickly, he said.

Witnesses said the twister, which damaged the beer distributor and two nearby automotive businesses, was gone in about 15 seconds.

By the time Hanratty and others could get a glimpse of the storm, all they saw was debris flying toward Bustleton Avenue and Red Lion Road.

Hanratty initially thought an airplane was hitting the building. Aircraft from Northeast Philadelphia Airport seem to fly low as they pass overhead, he said.

Deckard said he thought big hailstones — “the size of baseballs” — were hitting the roof.

The Beer Hut was closed until just before Memorial Day as the roof was rebuilt and cases of beer damaged by rain were removed, Deckard said. He added he had contractors working on roof repairs right away, but the wind and the water were costly.

“We lost a lot of stock,” Hanratty said.

Today, there are no signs that a twister had hit the property. The Beer Hut is open for business, although Deckard said cleanup still is going on.

Next door, the building that houses Ace High Auto still has visible damage, and the building’s two second-floor apartments have been declared unfit for habitation by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Keith Walsh, who is one of Ace High’s co-owners, last week said he lost about five days’ business. He said the building’s owner had only recently inspected the damage.

When he was interviewed last month, he pointed to debris in the parking lot. A few of his customers’ cars had been damaged and second-floor exterior damage was visible.

R&R Auto, which sits behind Ace High, was the hardest hit and is being rebuilt now.

The twister also did some damage to a nearby restaurant and apartment complex. Hanratty said the storm lifted one of the beer distributor’s signs and deposited part of it on the other side of the apartments near the post office.

He said he found that out when a postman brought the sign fragment back and said, “Here, this is yours.” ••

Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215–354–3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

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