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Smash street

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News / July 31, 2017
“Can you imagine if this had been a Monday?”

Vicky Thomasson, standing outside her home Sunday afternoon at the corner of North Main and Hodges Streets in South Boston, surveyed a scene that could have been lifted from a disaster movie set: utility poles snapped in half, streets closed off, dust and smoke rising up from where repair crews only moments ago had begun clearing away a huge mess.

A small-scale disaster had taken place a short time earlier at the neatly manicured yard that Thomasson and her husband Bob maintain at the street corner: their stately front yard oak tree toppled over into Hodges, narrowly missing the house on the other side of the street.

Everyone’s homes were spared damage, but the same couldn’t be said for five utility poles that were taken down by the fallen tree. Some of the poles were snapped clean in two; others were pulled down when the oak crashed over power lines. Some 1,700 Dominion customers in South Boston and Halifax briefly lost electricity due to the 2:33 p.m. incident; by 5 p.m., Dominion had restored power to all but about 50 customers.

If the tree had fallen on a busy Monday morning instead of a leisurely Sunday afternoon, Thomasson said, there’s no telling how bad the result could have been.

“I’m just thankful beyond belief” no one was hurt, she said.

The Thomassons were hosting musician friends for a Sunday afternoon jam session when their revelry was interrupted by Mother Nature’s showstopper. “It sounded like a train coming through,” said Vicky Thomasson. “The whole house shook.”

The crack exposed the hollowed and rotted core of the oak, which by outward appearances seemed healthy and verdant.

Bob Thomasson said he was told that the tree was a “century oak,” one of many planted along North Main generations ago.

This afternoon, North Main Street was a mess: bent poles and dangling streetlights were cordoned off by yellow police tape that stretched over a several-block area. The only people authorized to be on North Main were crew workers wielding chain saws and driving earth-moving vehicles. North Main and Hodges were closed to traffic for the afternoon.

South Boston Fire Chief Steve Phillips said he had been advised by Dominion that the outage affected some 1,600-1,700 homes and businesses in the area. Some residents also reported interruptions of their landline phone service. Across the street from the Thomassons, Boston Commons, the assisted living home, went without power for the afternoon.

A thick wooden spike rising up from the base was all that was left standing of the Thomassons’ toppled oak. “As you can see, it’s flat rotted out,” said Phillips. “It’s not enough wind [to have done this]. It pretty much fell on its own.”

Bob and Joanna Hughes, next door neighbors on the other side of the Thomasson house, had just settled down in the rear part of their home to chat when “we heard this deep cracking sound,” said Bob Hughes. “So help me God, it was like a car had hit the side of the house.”

He said the cracking sound lasted a couple of seconds, one reason he and his wife both mistook the snap of a falling tree for a collision of an oncoming vehicle.

Dane Skelton, who lives nearby on Chamberlain Street, was driving through town and had just cleared the intersection when the oak “just went down with a thump.” He estimated he was about 50 yards away when it fell: “I looked up in my rearview mirror” and there it was in the street.

Driving alone, he was unharmed.

“My main concern was that someone was beneath it,” said Skelton. He didn’t see any cars trapped under the tree so continued on his way home, not wanting to impede the response by emergency services. Skelton said he also noticed “the transformer was really going at it,” making a frightening noise after the power lines and poles were torn away. Electrified cables lay strewn around on the ground.

Sunday was a lovely day — much cooler than usual for late July — but for a brief moment, all that changed as a busy section of South Boston resembled a disaster zone.

“All it takes is a gust of wind,” said Skelton.

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