A violent storm cell with 70 mph winds left some feeling lucky to be alive after it ripped through the city and areas just south of New London around 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 20. The storm erupted with little warning and caused widespread damage.
There were no injuries reported as a result of the storm.
More than 1,000 trees were down, cutting power to 3,500 customers, clogging streets and damaging buildings and cars.
Large hail fell in parts of the city.
Torrential rains left streets flooded and cars stalled in low lying areas.
Cell phone and radio communications were severely disrupted.
Mayor Gary Henke declared a state of emergency by 4:30 p.m.
New London Waste Water Treatment Plant Superintendant Louis Dressen reported 2.4 inches of rain fell during the short storm. According to Dressen the flow at the plant jumped from 700 gallons per minute to 4,000 gallons, which is the highest measurable flow at the plant.
New London fire department received 37 calls.
Lt. Don Gorges said Waupaca County Emergency Government used an automated alert system to summon all available personnel to the station, after traditional communication lines went down. Many already had instinctively went to the station.
Off duty police officers, retired firefighters and citizens also came forward to help. One retired firefighter, Tom “Mooch” Barrington, drenched with rain water, stood directing traffic at Oshkosh and Spring Streets after an ammonia leak at Saputo Cheese forced a detour around the only bridge open in the city.
“With that amount of damage it’s amazing nobody was injured,” said Waupaca County Sherriff Brad Hardel. The New London Police and Fire Departments, all available street division employees, and New London Utilities staff were summoned and worked into the night. Utility crews worked through the night and well into Saturday. The Waupaca Red Cross, Emergency Management, and Health and Human Services Department also responded said Paul Hanlon, City of New London Building Inspector and Emergency Management Coordinator.
By 7:30 p.m., power had been restored to all but 600 customers. Some of the worst hit areas included the Fifth Ward, Wyman and Beacon Avenues, and the Floral Hill Cemetery area.
Emergency Management officials spent most of Saturday assessing the damages. Fire Chief Bart Rohloff assigned several firemen to document damage and take photos of homes after the immediate emergency was over. Citizens were also urged to document damage before cleaning up the mess or removing trees.
Don Nolan of Manawa was working at the New London Sara Lee plant when the storm hit. “It damaged a good size section of roof over a shipping area of the plant,” he reported. “A flag pole also came down on a car outside,” he said.
On Beacon and Wyman Avenues numerous large trees were uprooted. Roads and sidewalks were filled with people out looking at the damages.
Young Ben Mocadlo stood outside the family’s home on Beacon Avenue, speechless, as dozens of onlookers took cell phone photos of his flattened new car. His father John Mocadlo was shaken, yet thankful. “I had just told him to go out and move his car into the garage to protect it from the hail. It’s a good thing he didn’t,” said Mocadlo, who was holding back the emotion of a parent tormented by what might have happened.
Two miles south of New London in a woods near Manske Road, one family reports seeing more than straight line winds.
Shane Clarke was in a small outbuilding east of his parent’s house when the storm suddenly hit. “Every one of these trees here was pinned down,” he said as he pointed to an area north of the driveway from where we stood. “Then it stopped and came back this way. All I seen was stuff up in the air flying in a dark mist of debris circling all around. I saw a pine branch about 8 feet long spinning 40 feet up in the air. It was crazy. It was about as terrified as I’ve been in my life,” he said with huge eyes and hands still gesturing above his head.
“I didn’t see a definite funnel cloud because I think I was too close,” said Clarke. “It felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz.”
Shane’s mom, Ellen, was in the house, located further west in the woods and his dad, Jim, was in the garage fixing a flat tire when the storm flashed up. “I was prepared to dive under the truck parked in the shop,” said Jim Clarke. “Ellie (Ellen) was inside the house in the basement watching from a window. She saw a big tree land on the dog house and the two dogs scramble out,” he said.
Twenty-four hours after the storm, as we talked inside the house, the dogs stayed notably close to people for reassurance. They too were obviously shaken by the storm. Thankfully the sturdy construction of the dog house, which used to serve as a playhouse for the kids, protected them from the blow of the tree.
The path of destruction left a footprint on the Clarke’s property roughly 80 yards wide extending over a half mile through the woods. A swath of trees laid uprooted, tipped in different directions while others were snapped, splintered, and twisted like pretzels.
Shane gave a brief tour of the woods. “It came right down the hill and jumped over the house,” he hypothesized. “It definitely was not a straight path,” he added. It went zigzagging through the woods.
“I was on the phone with the National Weather Service afterwards and they said based on what we told them and described in detail it was likely a tornado,” explained Ellen Clarke. “They ‘Googled’ us, replayed the radar tapes and took down our information,” she added as she comforted the dogs inside their hand-built log home. It was untouched by the storm.
Jim built the home 30 years ago and they moved in when their oldest of four children started kindergarten. Fallen trees came within just feet of the home and gas tank outside.
“I like to think we built a sturdy home in a good location, but really we can thank the good Lord on this one,” said Jim Clarke looking out at the firewood and wood cutting work that lay ahead. “It’s enough to last my lifetime and then some,” he added.
In the City of New London, utility and contracted chain saw crews went to work immediately. Civilian chain saw armies also quickly formed. Within an hour after the storm people were already stopping in to Cash’s Little Shoppe of Bait at Riverside Park asking if they could take the wood from four large trees that fell on his docks and boat.
Cashmore flagged in Street Division Superintendant Dan Neely as he was out assessing damages early Saturday morning. “Would the city feel slighted if I had someone clean this mess up?” asked Cashmore. The response came with a hearty chuckle and a boisterous laugh, “You go right ahead. I don’t think anyone will mind,” said Neely as another call came across his radio. “We got enough to keep us busy for a while.”
Throughout the day people stopped to inquire about the wood at Cash’s. One bait shop customer said, “I call them wood ticks,” he said. “They always come out after storms.”
The city’s compost site at floral hill remained closed through the weekend because of extensive damage. People were asked to bring their brush to a temporary site on the west parking lot of Hatten Stadium or the River Road site. Inquiries about trees can be directed to the Park and Street Department at 920-982-8500.
Scott Sockett, a 36 year veteran street division employee, said this is the worst tree damage he’s ever seen in New London. “We won’t be taking vacation anytime soon,” said Sockett. “Maybe I’ll get some fishing in this fall.”
To report damage, safety concerns or questions contact the New London Police Department at 920-982-8505.