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Tornado ravages Delco residents’ homes: ‘We just don’t know what we’re going to do’

About 20 people were displaced from their homes in the middle of the night Friday after a suspected tornado ripped through Thornbury Township in Delaware County.

Kristin Bevilacqua-Nowell shows an Inquirer Reporter and photographer the room where her children were sleeping when the wind blew a window outward from the home onto the ground, at her home on Chelsea Court in Thornbury Township.
Kristin Bevilacqua-Nowell shows an Inquirer Reporter and photographer the room where her children were sleeping when the wind blew a window outward from the home onto the ground, at her home on Chelsea Court in Thornbury Township.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Kristin Bevilacqua-Nowell was asleep on her couch when she was awakened by the sound of her kitchen window blowing out and a wind tunnel of shattered glass pummeling through the first floor of her home. Everything went dark.

Bevilacqua-Nowell, who is eight months pregnant with her fifth baby girl, ran upstairs to grab daughters Bayleigh, 6, and Jocelynn, 5, who were next to a window that had blown outward, too. Rain was pouring in. The girls were soaked and covered in leaves. Both were still fast asleep.

Bevilacqua-Nowell took her children to the basement, where they huddled in the dark for 20 minutes until authorities entered the home and told them it was safe to evacuate. It was imperative that they get out quickly; there was a major gas leak in one of the homes.

Her house sustained catastrophic damage. But everyone in the family got out without a scratch.

They’re five of about 20 people who were displaced from their homes Friday when an EF-2 tornado ripped through Thornbury Township, Delaware County, leaving in its half-mile path eight homes completely ravaged and dozens more with broken windows, missing siding, and blown-off shingles. People across town are wondering how they’ll clean up the hundreds of downed trees.

The 250-yard-wide twister, with peak winds of 120 mph, was part of a line of severe thunderstorms that struck the Eastern Seaboard Thursday night and early Friday, leaving hundreds of thousands of people from South Carolina to Maine without power.

In Thornbury, only one person sustained an injury — she needed a couple of stitches to a hand after it was punctured by broken glass.

“It’s miraculous,” said Jim Raith, chairman of the township board of supervisors. “If it were a few hours earlier —." He trailed off. A few hours earlier was neighborhood trick-or-treating.

Displaced residents, some of whom were put up at the nearby Glen Mills Schools and others who stayed with family or in hotels, came back to their homes on Chelsea Court to assess the damage. Township engineers, after ensuring the homes were sound enough to walk through, took residents inside, holding gas meters to make sure there weren’t leaks.

Across the street from Bevilacqua-Nowell’s home, Barbara Arena, 55, and Dorinda Shank, 60, were taking their first walk-throughs. They live with their husbands on either side of a carriage house — they share an inner wall, but have separate living spaces.

Shank said she and her husband were sleeping when they heard an impossibly loud boom that sounded like a freight train was running through their house. The power went out, smoke alarms started beeping, and water began pouring in through an upstairs bedroom.

Shank said her husband, Dave, ran to the garage to grab a bucket and yelled, “Oh, my God. The wall is gone.” The garage door had collapsed onto their Mazda SUV. The roof of the house was ripped off, windows were blown out, and sections of drywall were gone.

“We’ve been up all night, just kind of on adrenaline,” Shank said Friday morning. “We just don’t know what we’re going to do.”

On the other side of the house, Arena and her husband had heard the same frightening sound. They sat up in bed and ran downstairs, hearing their basement door slamming open and shut; drywall dust was scattered on the floor. The roof of the house was “off,” Arena said.

They grabbed their phones, got to the basement, and waited 20 minutes until they were told to evacuate. It was over as quickly as it began.

“The first thing we said,” Arena recalled, “was, thank God this wasn’t three hours ago. There were so many little kids right here. And there was no warning.”

Raith said he’d never seen anything like what happened on Chelsea Court and the rest of the neighborhood, “and I hopefully never will again.”

Residents whose homes weren’t destroyed still felt the effects. Some went to Chelsea Court to see the worst of the damage.

Kaylee Bucci, a 15-year-old high school freshman who lives a street away, was hosting a Halloween party Thursday night. All her friends had left, and she was cleaning up when she heard a “super-loud gust of wind.” A tree fell near her room, and her mother screamed, “Tornado!”

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Bucci called her friend next door, who said a tree had come through her wall. And when Bucci eventually looked outside, she saw her trampoline across the street in a neighbor’s front yard.

Now, residents on Chelsea are wondering about next steps. On Friday, Bevilacqua-Nowell, 30, walked through the house with her father, Gary Bevilacqua, who owns the home and pointed out that the ceiling in the younger girls’ bedroom was caving in. The challenge was trying to get an insurance adjuster there as soon as possible.

He figures he’ll be fixing up the house — dealing with insurance, finding the right contractors — for months, if not a year or more. For now, his daughter and her kids are crashing with him.

First on the agenda, he told his daughter: “Figuring out where you’re going to live.”