'Significant' tornado claims 4 lives in Smithfield, National Weather Service says winds exceeded 100 mph

Kimberly Hilliard

It was a "significant tornado" that roared through and claimed four lives in Smithfield in Madison County.

35-year-old Kimberly Hilliard, her 4-month-old daughter Paris Newman, 70-year-old Virginia Warner and 53-year-old Arnie D. Allen are deceased.

Madison County sheriff's deputies say Allen was in a house that was picked up by the tornado, and thrown 150 to 200 yards through the air onto another home.

Investigators think Warner and Allen are related to Hilliard - and the property may have been part of a family farm.

According to Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley, deputies were first dispatched to Goff Road just about 7:15 Tuesday evening on a report of one building collapse, but when they arrived, the damage was far worse.

As it turned out, the tornado destroyed four houses, left three others heavily damaged, and flattened one barn.

"It looks like literally a bomb went off in a house, you see devastation everywhere. It's what tornadoes do; we've seen those on television. But we don't usually see them in the State of New York," Governor Andrew Cuomo said as he toured the damage Wednesday morning, describing it as "explosive" in a news conference. "Houses we can replace, buildings we can replace, but when you lose a 4-month-old baby, when you lose a family, there's no damage like that."

Kimberly Hilliard and her boyfriend were building a house at the scene of the collapse. It was her boyfriend who found Hilliard and their baby amid the destruction after he drove to the home, worried when he couldn't get a hold of her.

Hilliard also had a 10 year-old daughter, but she was not home when the storm rolled through.

Though the National Weather Service has confirmed it was a tornado that caused so much destruction, it says it will be some time before it can determine just how strong it was.

Right now, the National Weather Service found winds surpassed 100 miles-per-hour, on par with an EF2 on the scale used to measure the strength of tornadoes. That number could be even higher, according to Barbara Watson, part of the National Weather Service team tasked with assessing the damage left in the storm's wake.

Typical of the pictures we are so used to seeing come out of the Midwest, or other areas prone to tornadoes, a house on one side of Goff Road appears untouched, while others on the opposite side of the street are now gone.

The governor says the "wholly random" disaster raises questions about a "new normal" of extreme weather in New York.

"We don't get tornadoes in New York; anyone will tell you that, right? Well now we do," Governor Cuomo said. "This new normal is a challenge for government, first responders, and any citizen in this state."

In three and a half years, there have been eleven federally declared disasters in New York State, including a 100-year and 500-year flood. Regional staff from the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Servicesâ?? Office of Emergency Management are also helping county emergency management teams in ongoing damage assessments. The governor has directed the Department of Financial Services to deploy its Mobile Command Center to provide assistance on insurance issues to individuals and businesses impacted by the storm.

The governor praised the Smithfield community and emergency responders for the ways they left their homes to help their neighbors.

There are two National Weather Service teams looking at the damage across Madison, Onondaga, and Oneida Counties.

So far, one team found snapped and uprooted trees along Henry Beach Drive, and Weatheridge Drive in the Camillus section of Onondaga County. It was also going to look at storm damage reports in East Syracuse, as well as Nedrow and Marietta toward the south of the city of Syracuse, before moving on to Verona in Oneida County. You can follow their progress on the National Weather Service Binghamton's Facebook page. Another team was dispatched to Bradford and Susquehanna counties in northeast Pennsylvania.

So far, that team has ruled a tornado touched down in New Albany, in Bradford County.

You can contact the NWS at (607) 798-6625.

In New York, as many as 70,000 people were in the dark after the storms rolled through.

While electricity has been restored for about 30,000 of those folks, 40,000 others remain in the dark as of noon Wednesday.

In the North Country, parts of Oswego, Lewis and Jefferson Counties were also hard hit in a line of storms, but without a doubt, Smithfield in Madison County took the hardest hit.

As the community takes steps to heal, the governor promised the state's help in any way it can.

"For now, all that we can do is offer our prayers, and the warm embrace of every New Yorker," Governor Cuomo said. "Know that you're in our thoughts, we're sorry for your loss. If there's anything we can do, we will."'

The Department of Public Service has extended its helpline hours as crews continue to repair power outages. You can reach the Helpline at 1-800-342-3377 until 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, and from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, July 10, as needed to help neighbors cleaning up from the storm.