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Officials assess damage after tornado 'like a chainsaw' touched down in Upper Township
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Officials assess damage after tornado 'like a chainsaw' touched down in Upper Township

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UPPER TOWNSHIP — Rick Bricker and his family had just gotten a tornado alert and made it to the basement in their Stagecoach Road home Tuesday when the house started to shake.

“My son was looking out the (cellar) window and saw trees fall,” Bricker said Friday as he gave a tour of his property to township officials and U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd.

Van Drew was there to see the damage in the Marmora section for himself, he said, so he could advocate for getting the township designated a federal emergency area, and thus eligible for funding for the massive cleanup and repairs needed.

“We declared a proclamation of emergency for the township,” Mayor Richard Palombo said, adding officials have not yet figured out the cost of cleanup and repairs. “It’s going to take us a month to clean up.”

Bricker’s property was the end of the line for the township’s historic tornado, which the National Weather Service has said was an EF-1, with winds of 100 mph.

“From here it lifted off into the sky,” Palombo said.

But not before destroying the trees that had created a small forest in Bricker’s front and side yards. Somehow, it didn’t do more than minor damage to his home, as debris sheared off some of his roof.

“You used to not be able to see the house from the street,” he said as he stood in a newly sunny front yard, with stumps of broken-off trees everywhere. “You look up, and every tree is split that didn’t fall.”

The tornado had started as a waterspout near Corsons Inlet State Park and traveled across the Garden State Parkway at about milepost 24, where a large swath of trees now look like a giant chainsaw touched down, Van Drew said.

It moved in a northwesterly direction through the historic Seaside Cemetery, uprooting centuries-old trees and moving 400-pound gravestones. A large crane pulled out stumps Friday morning.

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“We lost hundreds of trees,” said cemetery owner Wesley Tomlin as she and a crew of workers, family members and friends cleaned up the debris.

“Even with COVID, what we have seen is neighbors helping neighbors,” Palombo said.

One of the worst things about the pandemic is the need to stay at home and not be among other members of the community, Van Drew said.

“It’s really good to be out and doing something physical and making a difference,” he said.

Across Route 9 from the cemetery, dozens of workers were repairing power lines and removing a massive tree the tornado had sent into the Glory Road Memorials building, shearing off one side of the second floor.

The second floor was occupied, said Township Administrator Scott Morgan, but no one was injured.

Then the tornado damaged several structures at the Oak Ridge Resort campground and Pine Hill Mobile Home park.

“Even with the campground, there were no injuries,” Palombo said. The township put up one 88-year-old woman at a motel until Friday so her home could be repaired, he said.

From the mobile home park, the tornado made a beeline for Bricker’s property, flipping gazebos and sheds as it went.

Bricker and his wife had discussed removing some of the trees to get more sun on their property, he said, but had decided against it because of the expense.

Now, the top half of the trees are gone, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get rid of what’s left, he said.

“We used to drive through Tornado Alley in Oklahoma, going to BMX races,” Bricker said. “I used to wonder what it would be like to live through a tornado.

“Now I can honestly say I know.”

Contact: 609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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