The tornado that tore a 250-yard-wide path through a Delaware County community did quick damage — literally just minutes — but home repairs will plod along at the pace of insurance companies and contractors.
At least 20 people, including children, were displaced from their Thornbury Township homes after the carnage of 120-mph peak winds caused by the EF-2 tornado, merely hours after trick-or-treaters walked the sidewalks of the close-knit community adjacent to the Golf Course at Glen Mills.
For Gary Bevilacqua and other homeowners on Chelsea Court affected by the unusual storm, their battle with Mother Nature is far from over. They are doing what they can to recover from the shock of the nighttime assault that occurred while many slept: making lengthy to-do lists, burning up phone lines to claims adjusters, and hauling away debris by the truck load.
By Saturday morning work crews of all types descended on the newly noisy street to stretch tarps over exposed roofs and hammer plywood over blown-out windows. The township brought in dumpsters while landscapers got to work sawing fallen trees.
With windows and roofs blown out or ripped away, homes are vulnerable to extensive water damage that can trigger mold if not quickly repaired. “It could take a month, it could take six months, it could take a year,” said Bevilacqua, who owns a Chelsea Court property, lived in by his daughter and her family. “These are going to be expensive remediations.”
Eight homes, including Bevilacqua’s — the ones most closely in the tornado’s path — sustained devastating damage. Many more of the modern-day carriage houses nearby have shattered windows, uprooted trees, and missing shingles and siding.
Kristin Bevilacqua-Nowell, 30 and eight months pregnant, was asleep when the tornado sucked the window out of the bedroom where two of her daughters, Bayleigh, 6, and Jocelynn, 5, were somehow still sleeping yet soaked and covered with leaves. In another bedroom that was also damaged, her youngest girls, ages 2 and 3, were also asleep but managed to escape injury.
“The good news is everybody’s safe," Bevilacqua said. “Now it’s the challenge of each of us working through our insurance issues.” Bevilacqua is an IT project manager at Vanguard, but his experience with home contracting and membership in a homeowner association has made him something of an informal adviser.
The cleanup will be complicated, he said, because many carriage houses are twins and it’s likely the owners will have different levels of insurance, with different response times for remediation.
Damage caused by wind or tornadoes is generally covered by homeowner plans, but there could be limits. Storm-related flood damage might not be covered.
Dave Shank, 63, said the storm took out the garage wall of his home, tore off a third of the roof, and dropped the garage door onto his wife’s Mazda SUV. His Honda Ridgeline also took a hit. “I’m missing the passenger-side mirror. I don’t know where that ended up,” he said.
Shank’s insurance company already sealed up the home. That’s the easy part. “We do have good insurance. I haven’t met with the insurance people yet,” he said. “So now I just wait for the insurance adjuster and we start the battle.”
Bevilacqua is also learning as he goes. “What I have found out the hard way is that they don’t cover things like downed trees. They don’t pay for debris, and that’s all over the place.” Pine trees that snapped like toothpicks pierced through perhaps a half-dozen homes, he said. By Saturday morning, Bevilacqua had three trucks full of debris ready to haul away. “What they do pay for is securing the house. Plywooding the windows, sealing the roofs.”
“This morning when I got on the job site the ceiling was starting to collapse,” he said. “Now you’re fighting the insurance companies on what they’ll cover. They haven’t sent anybody out. I couldn’t wait for an adjuster. I started cleaning up what I could.”
“It was a rough night a lot of places,” said Jonathan O’Brien, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly. It’s not unheard of to have a tornado in October, but peak season is typically spring and early summer, O’Brien said. The tornado’s EF-2 rating means its wind speed was strong enough to move cars and tear away roofs. It was also embedded inside a storm with gusty, straight-line wind.
The winds that tore through the region knocked down many trees and sent Peco crews into high gear. At its peak, 130,000 customers in Southeastern Pennsylvania lost electricity. SEPTA’s Regional Rail and Amtrak service was severely delayed and some trains were canceled. By Saturday afternoon most of the trains were back on schedule, but about 9,500 Peco customers remained without power.
On Chelsea Court, where some homes are still exposed to the elements, Peco can’t restore gas and electricity that could aid in the repairs until licensed electricians and plumbers inspect the properties and certify their safety.
The lengthy repairs likely mean his displaced family will be staying in Bevilacqua’s home a few miles away for quite a while.