A confirmed tornado was to blame for the destruction on Smith Island, the National Weather Service confirmed Friday.
Several homes and buildings were damaged by Thursday’s storm, an EF1, and a majority of the island is on a backup power source.
“There are no fatalities and only one injury where they were transported to (TidalHealth Peninsula Regional) last night,” said Gary Powell, assistant director of the Somerset County Emergency Service.
According to the NWS Wakefield Office, the funnel was first spotted at 7:22 p.m. on its radars, but was small.
“A waterspout is a tornado that forms over the water, and it formed over the (Chesapeake) Bay and was moving south, southwest to north, northeast. It hit Smith Island and moved on land and became a tornado. It strengthened of the island and was on it for a minute or so,” said Larry Brown, a meteorologist with the weather service.
An EF1 tornado can bring wind speeds of 73-112 mph, according to the National Weather Service website.
While waterspouts are common to the area during the August and September months due to warmer water temperatures, it rarely jumps onto the land and strengthens. Usually over larger land masses like the Eastern Shore, it dissipates.
Brown added they can happen in colder times of the year via cool air funnel and behave similarly to the one seen Thursday.
Among the damage reported was one home completely destroyed and a Bed & Breakfast that sustained “significant damage.” That included the loss of the roof and most of the upper story of the building.
Communication from the local fire chief confirmed at least 17 homes had sustained some degree of damage. Currently, Powell reports there have been no requests by Smith Island residents to the county department.
“The community is trying to save as many belongings as we can right now before more storms come. Everyone is really coming together to help each other out. The damage is devastating,” said Tiffanie Woutila, a local resident.
Jay Fleming, a photographer, has started a Go Fund Me Page to raise money for recovery efforts.
According to Somerset County Emergency Services, The Ewell Volunteer Fire Department has been at the forefront of recovery efforts, with close contact with the county. Also making their way to the area is A&N Electric as they continue to identify specific areas where power is still down.
“They have electricity and it has been restored to the majority of the island, but a small section of lower roads that still don’t,” Powell said. “A&N crews are over there working to remove the debris. The local fire department is open as well as the local recreation center for the public, but many have declined and stayed in their homes.”
The remote archipelago, home to about 260 people, consists of three distinct communities: Tylerton, Rhodes Point and Ewell.
In a social media post, the electric company noted that as of Friday morning, 64 co-op members on Smith Island continued to experience an outage due to the storm damage. The majority of the island was running on a generator located on the island.
Co-op personnel from nearby Tangier Island were able to isolate the damage and begin power generation about an hour after the storm caused the damage last night, A&N Electric Coop said.
In addition to the line crews, other cooperative personnel were traveling to Smith Island to assist residents as they begin to clean up the storm damage on Friday.
Powell said his department has sent a damage assessment team who departed at 10 a.m. Friday. The island is only accessible by boat or helicopter.