A powerful thunderstorm that rolled through the region with a hurricane-force gust knocked out power to at least 280,000, some SEPTA service, and, evidently, the heat wave.

The storm barreled along at a brisk 55 m.p.h. between 3 and 4 p.m. Thursday, and cleared the region in time for the heart of the evening commute. Damage and debris will linger much longer.

At 12:01 a.m. Friday, Peco Energy Co. spokeswoman Cathy Engel said 190,000 customers in Delaware and Chester Counties and in Philadelphia were still without power and she said some would go days without power.

"The damage is quite significant," Engel said.

Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington Counties in New Jersey also had power outages.

SEPTA service south of Philadelphia was delayed or suspended. Trees on tracks and snapped wires shut down the Media/Elwyn Line for the evening, a spokeswoman said. SEPTA hoped to restore service for Friday morning's commute.

Delaware and Chester Counties were especially hard-hit.

A woman and her two daughters were traveling on West Greenwood Avenue in Lansdowne, Delaware County, when a large tree crashed on their Lexus, trapping two of the occupants, police said. The youngest daughter got out of the car and ran to a nearby house, where 911 was called, Lansdowne Police Sgt. Dan Donegan said. Firefighters rescued the mother and teenage daughter from the Lexus, which was surrounded by downed power lines, Donegan said.

Both were taken to a local hospital to be treated for minor injuries, Donegan said. When asked what kind of tree fell on the car, Donegan laughed. "It was a big tree," he replied.

In Willistown, Chester County, there were dozens of felled trees, wires dangling, natural debris as deep as the snow had been in winter. At the McDonald's in Newtown Square, people were lined up outside the door as late as 9 p.m. because other restaurants were closed or they had no power at home.

Several large trees came down near Citizens Bank Park, where the storm interrupted the Phillies-Cleveland Indians game with 45,085 in attendance. After umpire crew chief Gerry Davis signaled for play to stop, head groundskeeper Mike Boekholder and the rest of the Phillies grounds crew rushed onto the field as fans scrambled for the safety of the ballpark corridors. Boekholder said he had prepared for the worst by calling in extra help.

"They were telling us to expect [winds] up to 70 miles per hour, and they probably weren't too far off the mark," Boekholder said. "We were watching it on the radar, so we knew what was coming. It wasn't like it caught us by surprise. We were well aware."

That still wasn't enough to keep Mother Nature from wreaking havoc. With visibility almost at zero and giant hail falling from the sky, the heavy tarp the crew uses to cover the infield came flying off despite being held down by a John Deere utility vehicle.

"It wasn't a lot of fun," Boekholder said. "That's the first time I ever saw a vehicle get pulled across the tarp."

At Clark Park in University City, four large sycamore trees were felled.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said damage was widespread and appeared to be caused by powerful straight-line winds rather than anything indicating a tornado, but he said weather officials would make the final determination.

As of 12:01 a.m. Friday, Peco reported about 99,000 customers were still without power in Delaware County; 79,000 in Chester County; and 12,000 in Philadelphia. Bucks and Montgomery Counties were largely spared.

In New Jersey, more than 17,000 customers in Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties, said PSEG spokeswoman Karen Johnson. Atlantic City Electric said 40,000 customers lost power in Camden County, and 14,000 in Gloucester County.

Heavy winds tore part of the roof off New Light Beulah Baptist Church at 1701 Bainbridge St. in South Philadelphia and sent it to the street about 4 p.m., crushing two cars, according to a neighbor.

The awning of a banquet hall at 1402 W. Oxford St. collapsed in North Philadelphia. No injuries were reported.

In South Philadelphia, two trees were split, the shattered pieces crushing the metal fence around St. John Neumann Place, a senior housing facility that used to be St. John Neumann High School.

At Bartram's Garden in Southwest Philadelphia, the famous yellowwood tree was struck by lightning and, although still standing, had only one large branch intact.

"I am devastated," said Louise Turan, the garden's executive director.

The 60-foot yellowwood, second oldest in the historic garden at 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard, may have been collected in Tennessee or Kentucky by French plant explorer André Michaux and sent to William Bartram in the 1790s. It was planted next to the house and has been a favorite with visitors. Its cascading white flowers bloom only every other spring, including this one. "It was beautiful," Turan said.

Bartram's will be closed Friday because of storm damage. Turan said staff members have told her they had seen the yellowwood survive even worse damage in the past.

"I hope that's true. This tree is near and dear to our hearts," she said.

Contact staff writer Anthony R. Wood at 610-313-8210 or twood@phillynews.com.
Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Bob Brookover, Sally A. Downey, Joelle Farrell, Frank Fitzpatrick, Troy Graham, Robert Moran, Darran Simon, Virginia A. Smith, Allison Steele, John Sullivan, and Sam Wood.