Romeo O. Grey, a security guard in Popponesset, was in his car late Tuesday morning, July 23 when the storm passed through. He was in the parking lot of the Popponesset Community Center and his car was shaking from the winds.
It sounded like a jet was passing over, the 2013 Mashpee High School graduate said. Rain was flying in all different directions, and it seemed like winds were making a circular motion.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life,” Mr. Grey said. “It was crazy.”
In the case of Mary Ann Coffey, she was on her way to Barnstable when the second tornado warning went off on her phone. She parked at a friend’s house, covered her head with a towel and ran inside. She weathered the storm in her friend’s basement.
After it had passed, Ms. Coffey got a phone call from her brother who told her that she should get home to her Popponesset house. A tree had fallen on its roof.
For Norma L. Hartwell, a tree fell on the roof of her Uncle Edwards Road home, narrowly missing two skylights.
“It’s crazy,” she said Wednesday, while loading chopped wood into a pickup truck.
She was away during the storm, but said that longtime residents of the area told her it was the worst wind and rain they had ever seen.
Although the National Weather Service did not confirm that a tornado touched down there, Popponesset was a mess following the fast-moving storm. The weather service reported it was likely a microburst that hit the Mashpee village.
Close to 2,000 homes were without power. Tree limbs, trees, and power lines were blocking roads.
Police and fire first responders reported that no one was injured due to the weather. But houses, cars and other private property were damaged.
The weather service reported wind speeds close to 60 miles per hour at the height of the storm in Popponesset and close to two inches of rain over an approximately 12-hour period. While police and fire personnel reported not much structural damage to homes, if any at all, trees did fall on several homes and crashed on top of a few cars as well.
The south Mashpee community, like much of the Cape, received two tornado warnings in that period as well.
“I think people will heed tornado warnings from now on,” Ms. Coffey said, walking along Starboard Lane Wednesday afternoon.
The road overlooking Nantucket Sound was said to be the worst hit, with trees cut off halfway from their bases, telephone poles snapped, and tree debris littering the roads.
While Hurricane Bob had been much worse for the region, the narrow storm that passed through was worse for Popponesset, Ms. Coffey said, mostly because it was totally unexpected.
The National Weather Service reported that two confirmed tornadoes touched down Tuesday on the Cape, if not specifically in Mashpee.
The tornadoes stemmed from “long-lived supercell thunderstorms” that produced water spouts in both Vineyard and Nantucket sounds, the service reported in a statement.
One of those moved ashore west of Kalmus Beach in Barnstable, and then traveled to Yarmouth as a tornado. It lifted and then a few minutes later touched down in Harwich again. The highest estimated wind speed was 110 miles per hour and its maximum path width was 250 yards. The tornado’s route was a discontinuous five miles and it moved at about 35 miles per hour.
“The damage was discontinuous but where the tornado touched down, the damage was quite significant,” a statement from the service reported. The roof of a motel in Yarmouth was completely peeled off.
Damage also was reported in Harwich and Dennis, including shingles blown off a house, a hole in a roof where a tree had fallen, and several trees were uprooted and limbs fell down.
The second tornado touched down in Harwich as well. The weather service reported that the same supercell waterspouts that started in the sounds produced the second tornado. Much of the effect was the same as the first tornado, with wind speeds up to 110 miles per hour and significant damage in its path.
The weather service reported that no one was injured in either tornado.
About 30,000 homes across the Cape, mostly in the Mid-Cape, were without power on Wednesday.
Government officials—state and federal—chimed in on the damage wrought on the area.
Congressman William R. Keating called on the governor to issue a disaster declaration.
“The incredible damage that this storm has caused to the Lower Cape in such a short period of time is unprecedented,” Rep. Keating said in a statement issued Wednesday. “I remain certain that resilient Cape Codders will pull together and do their best to ensure that the Cape remains open for business during our busy summer season. That said, it is also incumbent upon our government to offer help in extraordinary times of need.”
At a news conference in Harwich, Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. said it would be a few days before they knew the extent of the damage and what it would cost for repairs. Gov. Baker announced through a release that he would send the Massachusetts National Guard and inmates from local jails to Harwich, Dennis, Yarmouth and Chatham to help in the recovery.
The order allows for up to 500 guardsmen who will also be joined by approximately 221 department of correction employees and 88 inmates from “minimum custody facilities.”
State Senator Julian A. Cyr was also in Harwich at Wednesday’s press conference. In a followup interview, the senator said officials still are assessing the total damage and the costs expected for recovery. Federal Emergency Management Agency would respond with aid to the Cape, if uninsured damages climb above $9.6 million.
Sen. Cyr said that the state Senate is also investigating potential supplemental state resources in case federal funding does not come through. Mashpee would be included in any funding coming through, Mr. Cyr confirmed.
A major concern going forward, the senator said, is getting business back up and running. Several restaurants and stores in the Mid-Cape still did not have power back by Wednesday morning, which at the height of the summer season is a major concern. He did say that the Cape is still open for business.
The senator said the response to the storm has been “unprecedented.” Some 700 Eversource crews were out and about the Cape since Tuesday. He said that Eversource expects to restore power throughout the region by Friday, a significant feat, considering power lines had been totally ripped apart.
With the people he has interacted with, Sen. Cyr said, spirits have remained high.
“People have been resilient,” Sen. Cyr said. “This is when neighbors come out and help neighbors.”
He said that Cape residents were out of their homes minutes after the storm with chainsaws, pitching in to help out.
“Fortunately, no one was significantly injured,” he said. “This is not something we’re used to on Cape Cod.” The National Weather Service reported that these are the third and fourth tornadoes ever recorded to hit the Cape.
Back in Popponesset on Wednesday morning, close to 2,000 people were still without power.
Residents, landscapers and tree crews were out and about surveying the damage, chopping and chipping wood, and clearing debris. The sound of generators, chainsaws and leaf blowers were pervasive on what was a sunny and relatively cool day. Eversource crews were also out fixing and replacing snapped telephone poles and downed wires.
“If you have a hard hat and gloves, we could use you,” David Haddad of Upper Cape Tree Services told a reporter. His crew was clearing a tree that had fallen on a Cordwood Road home. His crew, he said, would be there for four or five days removing and chopping up trees.
The tree they cleared from the house Wednesday had been uprooted and toppled onto the roof. The house only had minimal damage but the falling tree had caused a few small holes in the roof.
“Other than Hurricane Bob, I haven’t seen anything like this,” Mr. Haddad said.
Department of Public Works director Catherine E. Laurent said that her department spent Tuesday afternoon clearing roads in Popponesset. The only other reports of tree damages outside the Popponesset and New Seabury area was one on Great Neck Road and two on Back Road near the base.
Ms. Laurent said that residents cleaning up their properties can bring tree limbs less than 6 inches in diameter to the transfer station if they have a sticker. The two-barrel limit is being waived through this weekend, she said.
A neighbor to the Cordwood Road home said that they saw trash barrels flying down the road at the height of the storm; their furniture in the back yard flew across the yard as well.
“It’s like the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ “ he said.
One woman said that they could not hear a tree falling on their neighbor’s house over the noise of the storm.
Mashpee Fire and Rescue Chief Thomas F. Rullo reported a microburst likely hit the southern part of town; there was no damage outside of Popponesset.
“Trees came down all over the damn place and brought down wires,” Chief Rullo said.
Captain Thomas A. Rose with the Mashpee Police Department said that it looked like a narrow “swath of destruction” passed through the Popponesset area.
Elsewhere in Mashpee, it was just another lightning storm, albeit a bad one. People still took precautions with the tornado warning Tuesday. At Camp Falcon, a school-based camp operated by the Mashpee Public Schools, all students and staff went into the gymnasium at Mashpee Middle-High School for safety, according to Mashpee Schools Superintendent Patricia DeBoer.
A town-operated recreational camp at Quashnet School went into that school’s gymnasium, Ms. DeBoer said.
“All adults and teen counselors did an amazing job of keeping students calm and engaged in activities that would help keep their minds off the storm,” the superintendent said.
In Falmouth, Captain Ryan Gavin with Falmouth Fire Rescue advised residents to stay off area roadways on Tuesday afternoon. He said that a car had stalled in North Falmouth after driving through a flooded area. He also reported that tree limbs were down in some areas, but his department and the department of public works were mostly occupied with flooded roads. In some low-lying areas, he said, flooding was up to two-and-a-half feet.
Aside from roads, homes were also flooded, the captain said.
The first tornado warning was issued for the Cape Monday night.
That night in Sandwich, a lightning storm resulted in a house fire. Lightning strikes hit multiple homes in that town. And homes were flooded in Bourne.
By Thursday morning, power had been restored in Popponesset, according to Eversource.
Town Manager Rodney C. Collins that Mashpee fire, police and public works staff did a “superb job” following the storms. Roads had been cleared and tree debris removed. Most importantly, the town manager said, no one was injured. He said that the town escaped the worst of it, at least compared to the Mid-Cape area.