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As a storm whipped through central New York Saturday night (July 17), it saved its most intense damage for the Aqua Vista Campground near Petersburgh, which was ravaged by high winds and falling trees, the Troy Record reported.
“It started (with) lightning and thunder and the rains came, and then within a minute, hail came on like gangbusters,” recalled Mike Weliczka, who’s owned Aqua Vista for the past 14 years. “There wasn’t much warning.”
Raymond G. O’Keefe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany, said that 80 mph straight-line winds were the culprit for the bulk of the damage. The possibility that it was a tornado was ruled out.
The storm began just after 9 p.m. on Saturday, and lasted for about 10 minutes, Weliczka said.
“The hail was so loud you couldn’t hear the trees coming down,” Weliczka said. “So when it subsided a little, people opened their doors and there were trees down everywhere.”
About 100 trees were either knocked down or damaged, he said, and the wind threw them into 30 trailers and a dozen cars.
One unlucky Hyundai Santa Fe that sat near Aqua Vista’s entrance Monday afternoon was the perfect example of the force of Saturday’s storm. The car’s roof was caved in, its side mirrors were hanging on by a thread and the windshield was buckled, its shattered pattern resembling an intricate spider’s web.
Some popup campers were flipped on their sides during the storm, Weliczka said, and other trailers were lifted off their concrete blocks and shifted off their foundations. Some trailers lost roofs and awnings, the tiles blown off in the melee. One still had a tree trunk nestled into its top — the owner’s insurance company wants to come down and survey the damage themselves, Weliczka said.
He added that he had just had 70 trees taken down in May, and pruned 20 more, in order to prevent storms like Saturday’s from knocking them down.
“Had we not, I’m tempted to say there would have been a lot more damage,” he said.
Despite the scope of the destruction, no one was hurt on Saturday. About 80 families were staying at the campground at the time, and when the storm passed, campers came down, along with the Petersburgh Fire Department, to run chain saws and try to clear some of the felled trees.
More help came on Sunday, from other campers and neighbors up the street on Armsby Road. Weliczka hopes to have the campground back to normal by this weekend, he said.
One of Aqua Vista’s long-time campers, Dave Merrills, is assisting with the cleanup efforts, and was working on clearing brush around a camper on Monday afternoon.
Like Weliczka, Merrills marveled at the swiftness of Saturday’s storm, the inch-and-a-half of hail, how trees had their tops blown clean off.
“The wind came out of nowhere. I never seen anything like it,” he said. “We had no power, so we got the flashlights out, and it was just destroyed down there.”
Merrills also described how tree limbs flew through the air, the nearby river acting as a receptacle for most of the branches.
“The tree that hit that camper right here,” he said, pointing to the trailer next door, “it’s gone. It’s in the river.”
Merrills raised his children at the campground, he said. Now, more than 20 years later, he brings his grandson to Aqua Vista. Helping Weliczka is his way of giving back to the place that has meant so much to his family, and a testament to the kinship that has come to define the campground.
“It’s a nice community,” Merrills said. “Everybody sticks together and helps everybody. You let your kids run around. It’s nice how everybody helped out.”