Two tornados touched down in the Southtowns Thursday afternoon. One was confirmed to have hit land near Holland. The other made its way through parts of Hamburg, leaving extensive damage at the Erie County Fairgrounds and Hamburg Casino.
The storm passed through during the noon hour. Fairgrounds employee Kristina George was in the smoking patio when the winds struck.
"I just saw a rush of wind and we couldn't see anything through the wind," she said. "It just came in a rush, within a split second. It just ripped everything off the ground."
George reported seeing picnic tables and a golf cart go airborne. One picnic table landed atop a roof on an adjacent building.
Patrons playing the slot machines reported the power went out twice. Then, they were told to evacuate because of a reported gas leak on the roof.
“We all went out to check out our cars and all of our windows were blown out completely," said Joyce Beckwith. "Then they sent us around to the back of the building where they thought it would be safer for us to wait."
Patrons were briefly kept within a neighboring brick building. When they were finally cleared to leave, they returned to their cars and pondered the damage.
George told WBFO she had made just three payments on her new vehicle, which had three windows completely destroyed.
"It sucks. I'm really upset," she said. "It was scary."
Meterologists from the National Weather Service stated the severe storm formed a line from Hamburg into north Boston, Orchard Park and down to West Falls and Holland. All of those areas have extensive damage from the storm. Remnants of the storm headed into Allegany County.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has issued a no unnecessary travel advisory for southern Erie County that includes Hamburg, Orchard Park and Wales. "This was one heck of a storm," declared Poloncarz.
“We want to keep the public advised that here are some dangerous conditions out there,” we have roads that are flooded as well as many trees and power lines. Our DPW crews cannot clean the trees off the road until the power lines are removed,” stated Poloncarz.
Part of the roof of the Fairground grandstand landed in a parking lot and on top of some vehicles. Damage was widespread throughout the property.
"Power lines are down, trees are down," said Dennis Lang, CEO of the Erie County Agricultural Society. "The east grandstand lost its roof, lost the announcer's stand for the racetrack, blew out the back wall. There are umbrellas throughout the fairground that are blown away. Bleachers have been blown away and destroyed. Trees, pergolos, all that kind of stuff."
The Erie County Fair is scheduled to open on August 9. Lang expressed confidence that the event will go on. Cleanup was already underway Thursday afternoon.
"Contractors are on site to do their jobs," he said. "We've contacted the tree companies, fence companies, gas companies and everything else. We will be ready. It will take a little extra labor, a little extra overtime to get it all pulled together."