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FREAK HAILSTORM BRINGS SUNDAY AFTERNOON HAVOC TO NIAGARA COUNTY

Ross M. Payne, owner of Falls Greenhouses, couldn't believe what a few minutes of hail Sunday did to his business.

"There's three greenhouses and all of them are destroyed," Payne said.

Thousands of windows, primarily on the west sides of buildings, were broken. Cars were mottled with dents and cracked glass. Large hail, the size of golf balls, also was reported in Lewiston and the Town of Niagara, State Police said. Small hail was seen in Cambria, Wheatfield, and Pendleton.

Aurore Kolometz of 2493 Pierce Ave. was shaken, too. A 50-foot tree was snapped off some 15 feet above the ground, and most of the rest landed on the roof of her home, which she said is one of the oldest in Niagara Falls.

"I just had it trimmed," Mrs. Kolometz said of the tree. "I hope my homeowners' insurance will cover (the damage)." The ancient concrete chimney of the house was wrecked, and gutters were knocked off.

A slow-moving storm that struck at about 4:40 p.m. and lasted about 10 minutes dumped hail as large as tennis balls on Niagara Falls. Three hours later, despite 70-degree temperatures, remnants of hailstones were still visible on lawns all over the city. Streets were carpeted with mounds of still-green leaves blown from trees.

"There really wasn't much wind," National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Hibbert said.

The violent storm formed when a cold front moved through the area, and was fueled by the unseasonably warm and humid conditions it met in Western New York.

The storm formed over the Welland Canal and intensified rapidly as it approached Niagara Falls, Hibbert said. The storm continued east through Orleans County. It measured 70 out of 75 on a radar scale indicating the intensity of a storm based on the radar energy reflected back from the storm, he said.

"That's the strongest I've seen in Western New York," he said.

In Lockport, there was no hail, but a brief heavy downpour caused street flooding. The intersection of Niagara and Church streets was filled with knee-deep water.

At Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the outer panes of the double-pane windows on three dozen patients' rooms were broken, a spokeswoman said. The patients were moved to other rooms. Also, there was basement flooding at the medical center from the heavy rain associated with the storm.

The only injuries reported were
to two small children who stumbled and fell while running home during the storm. They scraped their hands, medical center officials said.

A fire caused by arcing wires caused $250 damage on 72nd Street, the Fire Department reported. There were several other reports of downed wires, and lights at the Rainbow Bridge customs inspection booths went out. There were brief power outages in many areas, said Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. spokesman Stephen F. Brady. He said 7,300 customers in the Angola area were without electricity for about 1 1/2 hours.

Payne said the greenhouses on 19th Street between Walnut and Ferry avenues, which his family has owned since the 1920s, have never been so seriously damaged.

"It looked like a war zone in there. . . . It was just stunned silence, I couldn't believe it," Payne said. He estimated that more than 2,000 panes of glass on the roofs and sides of the greenhouses were shattered.

"We just painted and caulked every one of them," Payne said. He said the damage could be over $100,000, but he won't know for sure until he sees how many plants were damaged by falling shards of glass.

The third-generation greenhouse owner said he may have to lay off three of his six employees temporarily while the greenhouses are repaired.

Kevin Franquie of 19th Street, who lives next door to the greenhouses, pointed to an umbrella over a backyard picnic table. It was riddled with holes as if it had been used for target shooting.

"I think this was a record-breaker. I know it was a window-breaker," Franquie said.

Another neighbor on 19th Street, Ralph Cusatis, displayed four hailstones that he had picked up and rushed into a freezer for preservation. They were nearly as big as tennis balls.

"I've seen hailstorms, but this was the cream of the crop," Cusatis said. "Hitting the porch, it sounded like mini-firecrackers."

At Police Headquarters on Hyde Park Boulevard, officers were comparing damage to their personal vehicles and patrol cars, some of which the city just bought in the past few weeks.

During the storm a tree 3 feet in diameter snapped, and most of it dropped on the roof of Mrs. Kolometz' house.

Her daughter, Dawn Callahan of North Tonawanda, said there are records of the two-story home being sold in 1801, so it is believed to have been built in the late 1790s. She pointed out a birdbath with a side believed to be shattered by a hailstone, and three broken windows on the west side of the home.

"Thank God you had storm windows on, or it would have gone right into your living room," she told her mother.

News Staff Reporter Barbara O'Brien contributed to this report

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