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Potsdam declares state of emergency after storm pummels village

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"POTSDAM — Village officials declared a state of emergency Tuesday after high-speed winds and heavy rain caused trees and power lines to fall, leaving thousands in the area without power.

The storm began around 3:15 p.m. No injuries have been reported.

Emergency responders have set up a command center in the Fire Department to coordinate response to the damage.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had anything like this,” said village Administrator David H. Fenton.

Deputy Mayor Reinhold J. Tischler and Town Supervisor Marie C. Regan declared a state of emergency for both the village and town of Potsdam.

A travel ban has been instituted for the village. Police with loudspeakers ordered pedestrians off the streets at about 5 p.m. The use of village streets will be limited to emergency personnel and utility companies until the restriction is lifted.

Potsdam firefighters responded to a report of a roof collapse on the Village Wines and Liquor store in the Prosh building as high-speed winds struck the area at about 3:15 p.m. Potsdam officials said one person was inside the liquor store at the time of the collapse, but he was not injured.

There was significant structural damage to several other buildings in the area, including Sergi’s Italian Restaurant and Arlington Inns Apartments. Emergency personnel evacuated three to four other buildings — approximately 20 people — near the liquor store in the wake of the storm.

Corey M. Saber lives in Arlington Inns, and described coming home to see the damage done.

“It looked like it was literally raining inside,” he said.

Apartment residents will have to find new places to stay while repairs are underway.

National Grid is working to restore power to 16,000 customers in St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, but there is no estimate on when repairs might be complete.

“It will take a while,” Mr. Fenton said.

The campus of SUNY Potsdam suffered extensive damage as well.

Spokesperson Alexandra Jacobs said the roof blew off of Stowell Hall, an academic building that houses science classes.

The roof of Carson Hall, another academic building, also was damaged, as was the roof of the Performing Arts Building, which is under construction.

Ms. Jacobs said the school officials are currently evaluating the situation and a decision on whether or not classes and orientation events scheduled for tomorrow will continue is expected later tonight.

She did say there were some parents and students staying on campus and school officials were trying to decide where to place generators, so they could be housed in buildings with power.

County emergency officials have requested that Clarkson University provide space for elderly who have been evacuated from their homes, which the school was working on Tuesday evening a Clarkson spokeswoman said.

Onlookers described storm clouds that turned blue and green as they approached the village.

A gust of wind tore the roof off Evans and White Ace Hardware on 1 Maple St., blowing it across the street and into the Raquette River.

“The whole roof blew off, I could see it fly over the building,” said Ember S. Wakefield, who was working nearby when the storm hit.

Residents described the storm as being sudden and severe.

“The trees were bent, and it just kept coming and coming,” Mr. Tischler said.

Phillip J. Glowa, Fairbanks, Alaska, was in the area visiting his grandfather and walked outside when the storm hit.

“I went into the backyard and there were black swirls,” he said.

A weeping willow tree, planted by his grandfather in 1960, fell from the home on Leroy Street into a field at Potsdam High School.

“It just fell right in front of my eyes,” he said.




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