A fierce storm with high wind gusts toppled trees, damaged roofs, and cut off power Monday to thousands of customers in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.
No injuries were reported, but the storm damaged a section of the Wildwood boardwalk, toyed with Cape May’s historic Congress Hall hotel, and left buildings near the beach coated with wet sand. Tornado watches were issued for much of the afternoon for the Philadelphia region, but no twisters touched down.
Wind gusts of up to 82 mph were measured at Island Beach State Park around noon, and exceeded 70 mph in Atlantic City, the National Weather Service said.
By late morning, a portion of the Congress Hall roof had been sheared off, and a column was leaning against the hotel’s signature yellow brick. The hotel is closed until May 22 due to the coronavirus shutdown.
In Atlantic City, wind gusts ripped sheet metal from the side of the former Trump Plaza, the empty casino and high-rise hotel building owned by billionaire Carl Icahn that is slated for demolition.
In Pennsylvania, as of 2:30 p.m., about 10,000 of Peco’s 1.6 million customers were without service, according to Peco spokesperson Kristina Pappas.
In New Jersey, Atlantic City Electric reported 16,500 customers without power at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, Public Service Electric & Gas had cut its outages by half and was trying to restore 3,200 customers, including about 2,331 in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties. PSE&G said crews could not work in bucket trucks to repair damage and restore outages until the high winds had subsided.
In Cape May, photos showed the damage to Congress Hall, a hotel rebuilt in 1879 after the original structure was destroyed by fire. Other damage was reported to the popular Carney’s bar and restaurant on Beach Avenue, where a portion of the second-floor balcony appeared to have been torn off by a piece of roof, all landing in a heap at ground level.
Carolinn Pocher Woody, who lives near Congress Hall, said trees were down throughout the Victorian resort and she had seen damage at a boarding house on Decatur Street. A huge cedar on Perry Street had been downed by the storm. She estimated periods of sustained winds approaching 70 mph.
Her aunt lives next door to Congress Hall, and her second-story porch doors had blown wide open, Pocher Woody said.
Curtis Bashaw, owner of Cape Resorts, which includes Congress Hall, said the damage to the hotel from the intense burst of high winds was not as bad as might be assumed from the photos.
Bashaw said a roofer was on the way to repair what he said was damage to the rubber outer membrane of the veranda roof, and that the insurance claim would probably reach six figures. The building sustained no structural damage, and the wood beneath the membrane was still protecting the interior, he said.
“All the roof structure is in place,” he said. “Every time I get to see that attic, I’m in awe of the size of the timbers. It’s rock solid. There’s no structural damage whatsoever. Congress Hall has weathered hurricanes, storms, fires, and the Civil War. Now we’re in the process of weathering COVID-19, which is an elusive foe.”
In Wildwood, police reported “numerous down wires, poles, and debris in the roadway.” A section of the boardwalk was lifted up by winds, and boardwalk railings on the ocean side were toppled.
In Egg Harbor Township, the roof covering pumps at a Sunoco gas station collapsed.
And in Somers Point, video showed the roof of the newly constructed All-Action Sports being ripped off by the wind.
Damage to roofs of homes was reported in Margate, Atlantic City, and Cape May, and elsewhere along the Shore.
The National Weather Service in Mount Holly said there were reports of trees falling, especially in the Philadelphia area. “With the heavy rainfall, the ground is waterlogged and trees will be more susceptible to falling,” the weather service said in a tweet.
In Camden, the COVID-19 testing site located at Cooper’s Poynt Waterfront Park was closed due to the storm. Patients were asked to visit one of the other clinic sites operated by Cooper University Health Care or Virtua Health until the site reopens for its normal operating hours on Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who represents Atlantic and Cape May Counties, asked Gov. Phil Murphy to declare a state of emergency in response to the weather.
“Storms and powerful winds have damaged huge areas of South Jersey, while we are in the midst of a public health crisis,” Van Drew said.
Murphy did not comply with the request.