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Smithfield community in shock after tornado strikes; governor offers condolences

The National Weather Service has determined that it was a tornado that touched down in a rural part of Madison County last night, killing four people, including an infant.  

Barbara Watson, lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service, made the tornado determination after surveying  damage along Goff Road in the town of Smithfield.

"It will be declared a significant tornado.  It had wind speeds well over 100 miles per hour,” said Watson.

Later Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service reported the tornado was an EF-2, and was 235 yards wide and traveled 2.5 miles.

The twister ripped apart four homes, and four people and a dog inside three of those homes were killed. They’ve been identified as 35-year old Kimberly Hillard, her four-month old daughter Paris Newman, 70-year old Virginia Warner and 53-year old Arnie Allen.  

Sheriff Allen Riley says the storm was unbelievable.

"The winds were so high that one of the homes was lifted off its foundation and carried approximately 150 yards and came down on another home down there.Luckily that home wasn’t occupied,” said Riley.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley, Barbara Watson from the National Weather Service and other officials brief the media on Tuesday's tornado in Smithfield

Gov. Andrew Cuomo surveyed the damage from the air and the ground, struck by the randomness of it all.

“You have a house on one side of the street that is basically fine. You have a house on the opposite side of the street that is just gone. And that was the path the tornado happened to take, with no rhyme and no reason,” said the governor. “And people have lost loved ones. For that all we can do is offer our prayers.”

Cuomo pledged help from the state to replace property damage, but noted that no one can replace lost family members.

“Just know anything the family of New York can do it will.  And we all stand in solidarity on this tremendous loss with Madison County,” said Cuomo.

Riley says the community is still in shock by the devastation wrought by the sudden storm.

"This tragic event affected all of us in Madison County, not just the residents up there. My heart goes out to the families of the victims up there,” said the sheriff.

Extreme weather events like this have become more common in New York state.  Cuomo surveyed the scene yesterday, noting that since he became governor he’s had to deal with 11 weather related disasters.

"There is a pattern of extreme weather that is different. We’re seeing things that we’ve never seen.  We see floods where homes that have been dry for 100 years get hit with floods and are totally destroyed.”

Cuomo says this new normal of extreme weather is a challenge for  government and first responders.  That’s why the state has started a series of citizen preparation training sessions, so citizens can learn to be prepared.  

Watson says this storm picked up so much strength so quickly, it would have been difficult for these victims to get out of it’s way.  Leaving people like Sheriff Allen Riley on hand to help survivors sift through the rubble.

"Just watch people pick up their belongings, put them in plastic bags, was just unbelievable to me.  Everything they had. Pictures, looking for things. Going through. It was just horrible."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.