It was chaos in many forms Friday as storms pounded the western part of the state. High winds toppled power lines, snapped poles and flattened buildings.

There were lightning strikes and fires and washed-out roads across Oxford County. Weather experts were still investigating whether the late-day storms brought tornadoes or simply microbursts that caused widespread damage.

“It was quite intense there for about an hour,” said Oxford County Emergency Management Director Scott Parker. “There were telephone poles that snapped like toothpicks. The winds were that strong.”

In Paris, several buildings at Young’s Greenhouse on High Street were flattened or otherwise damaged by what at least one witness insisted was a tornado.

“We saw stuff up 200 feet in the air,” said Kelvin Hartley, who was taking care of Jackie and Glen Young’s farm when the storm hit. “In my opinion, that was a tornado. It was enough to force us into the basement. It was bad. It was destructive. It’s nothing I’d want to go through again.”

Hartley said of the 17 greenhouses and related buildings on the property, most were lost to the storm.
“There’s only three or four left,” he said. “The others were flattened.”

Two barns and a garage were also blown apart, Hartley said. The owners were on their way home to assess the damage late Friday.

Paris appeared to be the hardest hit, although the storm swept through Norway first. “We got the first wave of it, but Paris really got hammered,” Norway fire Chief Dennis Yates said. The Norway fire station got clobbered by a lightning strike early on. It fried an antenna and blew out the power supply, Yates said.

Other lightning strikes were reported on Round The Pond Road and trees were down all over Ralph Richardson Road as the storm moved on. Some swear they saw a twister.

“I had a lady run up to me and say, ‘I saw a tornado!'” Yates said. “I’m not a weatherman so I really can’t say.”

Parker said he was told a tornado or microburst touched down north of Route 26 and then whipped east toward Sumner and Buckfield. In the nearby town of Hartford, Yates said a house was blown off its foundation and several roads became blocked by downed limbs and wires. It was not immediately clear where the damaged house was located.

Weather officials planned to send investigators to the area Saturday to take a closer look at the damage. The National Weather Service had been warning of possible tornado strikes Friday afternoon.

“There was some rotation we saw on the radar so it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a touchdown,” said Stacie Haynes, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray. She said wind speeds were measured between 60 and 70 mph. 

Central Maine Power crews were in the region late Friday as were representatives from the American Red Cross, who were helping people who were unable to return to their homes.

“The Red Cross has done a great job,” Parker said. “And CMP is all over it.” 

In Hartford, Emergency Management Director Tom Standard said the main roads to Buckfield were closed most of the night because of trees and poles that blew across roads. Still, he considered his area fortunate.

“There was a lot of thunder, but we didn’t get the winds as bad,” Standard said.

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