Cleanup From Lakewood Storm Could Last Days

LAKEWOOD – The sound of chainsaws echoed along Terrace Avenue in Lakewood on Tuesday.

Highway crews from multiple towns and competing tree service companies dotted properties not far from the Chautauqua Lake shoreline. The Labor Day storm reportedly hit with ferocious wind gusts that uprooted trees and overturned boats in the lake.

On Tuesday, meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Buffalo confirmed a microburst with winds in excess of 60 mph likely caused the extensive damage in the village. The nearest wind station is at the Chautauqua County airport in Jamestown, but officials said the amount of damage can be attributed to a microburst.

“Basically what happens are these straight-line winds take down trees in all the same direction,” meteorologist Shawn Smith said. “The winds come right out of the thunderstorm cloud and hit the ground with a lot of force.”

Watching a crew from the town of Busti Highway Department clear debris off their property Tuesday were Steve and Christine Smouse. Steve Smouse is the first assistant fire chief with the Lakewood Fire Department, and was in Buffalo when the storm hit.

“The fire chief called and said, ‘We kind of have a problem here,'” Smouse said. “I wasn’t happy when I got back and saw the damage.”

A tree missed the Smouses’ home when it uprooted, but did land on their pickup truck and caused a nearby car to roll onto its side.

A few hundred yards away, Howard Howlett Jr. looked on as a tree service company from Westfield removed debris from his sprawling property on the lake. One tree fell on his barn, and another in the back yard – the latter missing his home by about 10 feet.

“Our umbrella outside hit our house when I was inside so I turned around and here comes the tree,” Howlett said, noting he planted the large tree 30 years ago.

“We’ve had tornadoes here before with one tree coming down or something. Nothing like this.”

Others were lucky to escape the damage. Diane Jordan was watching TV inside her Front Street residence when a severe thunderstorm warning was broadcast at about 1 p.m.

“I was watching the Mets pregame show when the first alert came over,” Jordan said. “I looked outside and the skies just opened up as it started to rain.”

Jordan, who has lived in Lakewood for 50 years, said, “I’ve never seen a storm as intense. We occasionally get some powerful ones, but nothing like this.”

Smouse said firefighters responded to more than 20 calls Monday, most for fallen trees and downed power and phone lines. No injuries were reported.

Sgt. Paul Gustafson of the Lakewood-Busti Police Department said officers responded to numerous alarms, but noted no major incidents.

“The safety of those in the area was our main objective and we did whatever we could do to assist those affected, as did the Lakewood Fire Department, Lakewood Highway Department and other departments called in to assist,” Gustafson said.

“Personally I was very happy how neighbors and others were helping those who had damage to their properties. National Grid was on scene very quickly as well.”

According to the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities and National Grid, close to 8,000 customers lost power in the storm from Lakewood to Jamestown. Most power was restored by Monday night.

Meanwhile, cleanup was expected to last a few days, said Tom Pilling, village of Lakewood Department of Public Works supervisor. Crews from Busti, Harmony, North Harmony and Kiantone were assisting in removing debris from village roads.

“It will take us a little while (to clean everything),” Pilling said, noting the holiday did not hamper efforts to clear roadways. “The fire department was able to get a lot of it done. We started first thing (Tuesday) and got to work.”