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Tornado kills 4 in Madison County; thunderstorms leave thousands without power around region

The National Weather Service says a tornado struck the Smithfield area killing four people in Madison County and leaving tens of thousands without power and causing significant damage through the region.

A line of severe thunderstorms moved through the entire region of western, central and northern New York Tuesday evening causing damage in various areas, but Smithfield suffered the worse.

Madison County Undersheriff John Ball says that as of Wednesday morning, there are at least four people confirmed dead in an area along Goff Road and North Rupp Road, in the Smithfield area.

The sheriff's department is not confirming the identities of the fatalities, but family members have confirmed to WRVO News that the deceased include a mother and her four-month-old daughter who were in a single family home. Another woman, approximately 70 years old, according to family members, was in a mobile home that was also destroyed.

The sheriff's office confirms that in all, four homes were destroyed. Undersheriff Balls says the town of Smithfield was the hardest hit with many more homes damaged and numerous trees and utility lines down.

The deceased have been recovered and will be removed to the Onondaga County Medical Examiners office, according the sheriff's office.

The American Red Cross is assisting families in Smithfield whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged.  The central New York chapter says at least eight homes in the area were impacted, and they are offering the residents food, clothing and other necessities, and emergency housing if needed.

Damage is also widespread in the towns of Sullivan and Lennox.  A news conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is surveying the damage in the area..

The line of severe thunderstorms that moved through caused significant damage in Oswego and Onondaga County. About 35,000 homes and businesses were without power as of early Wednesday morning (see below for updated outage numbers).

East Syracuse was particularly hard hit with many trees and power lines down and damage to homes. As of early Wednesday morning, the village continues to be under a state of emergency. The American Red Cross opened a center at a fire station in East Syracuse last night for residents who were without power, and re-opened it again Wednesday morning

The damage was also severe across parts of Oswego County. Along McDougall Street in the city, trees and power lines were laying across the road. A 97 year old woman named Louisa, who asked that we only use her first name, says she's lucky to be alive after a tree fell on her home as she sat in her kitchen. Louisa crawled out of her home from under the debris and called for help.

"The tree took the roof down and I crawled out from under the glass and everything," said Louisa. "That's how I got cut. And I got out. I don't know how I got out."

Louisa has some cuts and bruises, but she says it could have been worse.

"The storm came very suddenly," said Louisa. "I was sitting by the window. If I had been out in the back room, and the back door was locked, I would have been shut in the back room." 

The Midway Drive-In in Minetto was also badly damaged in the storm.

Credit Photo courtesy of Oswego County resident Rick Grosvent
Historic Midway Drive-In in Minetto was severely damaged in the storm.

The storms began around 5:00 p.m. Tuesday and intensified as they moved closer to central New York. Tornado warnings were issued for parts of Cayuga, Onondaga and Madison counties, and later for parts of Madison and Oneida counties. The National Weather Service has not confirmed that any tornadoes touched the ground, but are sending storm investigation teams throughout the area to determine if any tornadoes struck. 

National Grid says they have crews spread out through western and central New York to work on restoring power, and reports that at the height of the power outages Tuesday night, 63,000 customers lost power in the region from the storms.

7:30 a.m. Wednesday update

Here are the county-by-county power outages reported by National Grid early Wednesday morning:

Onondaga County - 7,672. Most are in the town of DeWitt, the village of East Syracuse and the city of Syracuse.

Oswego County -- 9,751

Oneida County - 5,531

Lewis County - 2,772

Madison County - 654

And Rochester Electric & Gas reports that about 500 customers are without power in Wayne County.