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Homes along Salvatore Drive just a couple of minutes after the twister passed through. The images that were stitched together for this view were taken by Evan Newman.

This is the second chapter of a three-part series focusing on the Mullica Hill-Mantua Township-Wenonah-Deptford, NJ, EF3 Tornado of September 1, 2021. A section map depicting the location of various stories and EF-scale trends in intensity, as well as an imagery map created with aerial overlays, can be found below. To return to the overview page of this twister, click here.

EF Scale and Location Map
Imagery Map

In the previous chapter, we followed the tornado track from formation through the Willow Oaks Subdivision. Chapter II picks up as it moved out of that neighborhood, through a cornfield, and towards Gangemi Lane.

Much of that day had been pretty regular for Alison Lynch. Twenty minutes before the tornado hit, she went out to the grocery store. Alison received a call from her husband asking her to come back. By the time she returned, it was pouring rain. They watched the news, which noted that people in Mantua or near the Deptford Mall might want to take cover. She never learned if they went on to mention their own town of Mullica Hill, as a “weird” wind sound began to grow louder and louder. This prompted Alison, her husband, and their three kids to seek shelter in the basement. Their ears popped, which was when they realized how serious the situation was. A daughter went up to get their dogs and was only part-way back down the stairs when they heard the windows shatter. Alison believes had her daughter been any slower, she would likely have sustained serious injuries from flying debris.

The tornado was extremely brief, but the damage was substantial. All the windows were blown out and bits of the roof were removed. An attached porch with a gable roof was missing, and a tree now sat in their living room. Without power, the residence could only be navigated using the flashlights on their phones. All six of their vehicles were totaled, including two trucks that were “literally crushed.” One of those pickups was so buried by fallen trees that it took three days to locate. One of the primary things Alison loved about where they lived was the landscape, and now, it was completely gone. It will be many years before the woods fully recover.

A view of the damage to Alison’s home. Image provided by Ray Kulpa.

Alison’s dad came to get them, but the lane to their house was covered by the toppled grove of trees. The family (save the husband, who stayed the night to watch over their possessions and dogs) was able to trudge through a cornfield to get to the main road and escape.

When I first visited Alison during my survey about three days after the tornado hit, there were tons of volunteers all over the place. In fact, she did not know many of the people helping in her yard. There was even a group of Mennonites from Maryland that aided with the removal of trees.

Despite the incredible support for the initial stages of recovery, the process has dramatically slowed in the area. As of January 2022, Alison told me that most properties have had little visible progress. They hired an engineer to evaluate whether their house was reparable or not. That expert and the insurance company are still at odds over whether it should all be torn down. Not every person in the community who lost their house wants to rebuild here. Still, life has been able to quietly continue even through the lack of advancement.

One of the things Alison learned (beyond having the best insurance possible!) was simply “the humanity of your community – its overwhelming. You know people care and things like that, but people just went above and beyond.”

The half-mile-wide windfield swept north-northeast and badly damaged a couple more homes along Gangemi Lane. By the time it reached Bridgeton Pike, it had regained much of the ferocity seen previously about a half-mile upwind in a subdivision. On the southern side, a large frame home lost its roof and portions of exterior walls. On the northern side of the street is the Angelo Grasso and Son Farm.

A view of the track extending from Gangemi Lane. Images stitched together were provided by Ray Kulpa.
Tree damage along Gangemi Lane. Photo taken by Nelson Tucker.

Lenny Grasso didn’t give much thought to the tornado warning alert on his phone. What he did notice was that the rain stopped, leaving only dead silence. Within seconds, a distant but growing roar filled the air, so he and his wife rushed for the basement. While their home was temporarily rendered uninhabitable, it was the only building on the farm not visibly destroyed. All outbuildings, greenhouses, and equipment were lost. Per a GoFundMe for the family set up by the Gloucester County Board of Agriculture, “This family just put their life savings into construction of a new packing and cooling facility that meets modern food safety standards. It was completed just last week. In a blink of an eye, that improvement project was destroyed.”

A view of the damage to the Angelo Grasso and Son Farm. Photo taken by Nelson Tucker.
An aerial view of the destroyed farm. Image provided by Ray Kulpa.

The support for the family and their business has been just as amazing. On that same fundraiser page (as of the writing of this article), $113,545 has been raised to aid their recovery. On Labor Day alone (five days after the tornado hit), more than 150 volunteers showed up to help. Lenny noted in a September 9, 2021 article from NJ.com, “It’s been overwhelming. It gives you faith in our society. It’s just an incredible outpouring of support and generosity.” As of the time of that article, the family business was still planning to return. Despite his 63 years of age, Lenny stated, “I want to come back. I am up there in my years a little bit, but I wasn’t ready to be done yet.”

The continuing path of the tornado was evident in the farm field beyond the property. Long grass was mashed to the ground by a small suction vortex. It then moved into a thick belt of trees along Raccoon Creek, leaving snapped, delimbed, and defoliated trunks.

The damage swath moving away from the farm. Image provided by Ray Kulpa.
A wider aerial view of this location. Image from FEMA and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP).

Among the many places hit by this tornado, the Salvatore Drive subdivision was perhaps the most devastated. Of the 26 large, two-story homes, more than half were irreparably damaged, and none were left unscathed. One of the residences was utterly leveled to the ground with no walls left standing. Trees were crumpled, and a few cars flipped and dragged through lawns. The first piece of footage linked here shows the tornado in the subdivision from approximately the timestamps 1:30-1:55. The second video begins just as a two-story home in the neighborhood was being leveled.

A row of destroyed homes along Salvatore Drive. Image from FEMA and the CAP.

In Chapter One, I mentioned a storm chasing team of five Millersville University students that observed the storm shortly before the tornado formed. That group raced to keep up but could not get close enough again for a view. However, they were perhaps the first to make it into the subdivision along Salvatore Drive, entering only one or two minutes after it was struck. Here is part of their account from one of those students, Evan Newman:

“We drove after the tornado and eventually caught up close enough where we began to see damage left in its path. Trees were snapped, power lines dangling, transformers sparking and exploding nearby, and we knew we had to be within range of the funnel…. We were about a mile away from the funnel and we ran into a devastated neighborhood, where we called off the chase officially to help those who were affected in the neighborhood. Later that evening, we were told everyone in the development was okay and we took a stranded high school student back to a friend’s house.”

One of the first homes hit in the subdivision was that of Mark Kobylinski. He shot what is undoubtedly one of the most incredible tornado videos in recent memory. There are times when words only detract from a story, and this is one of those cases. His survival is far better seen than told, and I am not going to attempt to try and supplant that. I urge you to watch the video below before continuing:

Two other videos taken by him of the twister shortly after the one above ended can be viewed in this Facebook post:

Per a November 7, 2021, Facebook post by Mark, the man appeared to be doing well. By then, demolition and cleanup had finished at his property, and the foundation was being made ready for rebuilding.

Across the street, Dave Fokas, his wife Kim, baby girl Arielle, and dog, Buddy, huddled in the basement as the tornado pushed through their Salvatore Drive home. They emerged safely from their shelter, but their residence was destroyed and their belongings scattered. Dave told Fox 29, “The person in the first house, five houses down, said they found a bunch of my stuff in their house.” Dave described one lost item as “the most important out of everything in our house.” On September 6, he made the following plea on the Mullica Hill Living Facebook page: “Hey Mullica Hill, I hope I’m not too late to be posting this, because it might have already ended up in a debris pile to be thrown away. I am looking for a yellow Star of David that has the word “Juif” on it. My Grandmother was forced to wear it in Nazi occupied France during the Holocaust. When she passed away it was handed down to me. It was framed and in my bedroom during the tornado. My bedroom was ripped from the house and thrown all over the neighborhood. I have attached a picture of what it looks like. I had a picture of the star in the frame on my computer that has been destroyed.” As of the writing of this summary, the star has yet to be found.

Neighbor Melody Randle and her family have had a quick recovery. Their home was also destroyed, but they were able to purchase a temporary place to live within 30 days of the event while they waited for the rebuilding process to move forward. One of the important things to her lost in the storm were ethnic Christmas ornaments she had spent 30 years collecting, as well as those made by her children. Still, the Christmas of 2021 was not all bad. In a January 3, 2022 WBGO article, she noted, “We started anew, and it was really nice.”

At left, the home of Melody Randle. A flipped car is visible at bottom right. Image from the NWS Mount Holly.

The two-story Dagrosa family home was completely leveled to the ground. No walls remained, only a smear of rubble where it once stood. Fortunately, this family also heeded the warnings and were safely sheltered in their basement when the vortex shredded their dwelling. Despite the tremendous destruction, neither the parents nor their two young kids were touched.

The entirely flattened home near center was the Dagrosas. To its right was the house of Melody Randle. Image from FEMA and the CAP.
A ground level view of the Dagrosa home. Image from the NWS Mount Holly.

Round Tree Farm & Greenhouse is situated just south of the Salvatore Drive neighborhood. Eric and Kyle Griffin, the owners, videoed the twister brush past their property. Eric told ABC 6, “It went through the back of the farm, did minor damage compared to our neighbors over here that got devastated.” They have been helping the ravaged community by moving large pieces of debris with machinery from their farm. “We’re just helping people get stuff to the street since we have equipment that can make life a little easier,” said Griffin.

A wide view of the area. Image from FEMA and the CAP.

Across Clems Run and Mullica Hill Road, more properties were totaled. An entire grove of trees was transformed in a few seconds to a skeletal mass of broken trunks. The three frightening videos below captured the twister in this area.

A grove of destroyed trees between Clems Run and Mullica Hill Road. Photo taken by Nelson Tucker.

Richard Hoagland has lived in his Route 322 home for over 40 years. He and his wife Cindy were in their house as the funnel approached. They were talking to a friend who alerted them that a tornado was coming. Richard looked out the window and saw the darkening sky. He then ran out the front door. Richard described to Fox 29 Philadelphia what he saw outside. “You had the proverbial freight train, with all of the debris and the stuff moving.” The couple hurried to the basement steps and waited for the tornado to pass.

The Hoagland’s lost the roof above their bedroom. Richard, an avid gardener, had thousands of mums in his garden. He had planned to sell them by the side of the road after they bloomed. Sadly, most of the flowers were flipped over, and the water well and barn were destroyed. The day after the tornado, help arrived at the Hoagland home. “You see all the cars, all the friends and family,” Cindy told ABC 6. “Family is everything. So, we’re very fortunate.” David commented, “And me and my wife got out without no scratches, so, that’s the biggest thing. We can fix this and we will.”

Some of the damage along Mullica Hill Road. The Hoagland house is located at right. Image from Jamieson Allen of Atlantic City EMA.

Numerous homes were affected in a couple of neighborhoods stretching off Cedar Road. The intensity was not so great as at Salvatore Drive, but a half dozen or so properties had serious structural damage. One lost bits of its roof, an exterior wall, and nearly broke apart. The incredible security camera videos below were provided by Alyson Newman and show the twister moving through this area. There are many interesting features in these four pieces of footage that shed light on the complex wind field of the tornado, and the way it interacted with the terrain.

The first security camera video provided by Alyson Newman. 

The second security camera video provided by Alyson Newman.  

A third security camera video provided by Alyson Newman.

A fourth security camera video provided by Alyson Newman.

A photo taken by Elizabeth Goss-Kaplan of the twister moving away from this area.
An aerial view of damage in this area. Image from Jamieson Allen of Atlantic City EMA.

Once again, the twister’s core re-intensified and mowed down a large swath of woods. A maximum width was achieved here of 1,330 yards (0.76 miles). It exited that area, only to immediately collide with an unfortunate farm.

A wide swath of destroyed woods. Image from Jamieson Allen of Atlantic City EMA.

Marianne and Wally Eachus own the largest dairy farm in the state of New Jersey, Wellacrest Farms, Inc. It was established in 1943 by Wally’s parents. In a September 6, 2021 article from WHYY, “Wellacrest produces more than 17 million pounds of milk annually and works with other farmers to share and sell crops. There are 1,400 cows on the property — about half of them are milking cows.”

The couple were eating dinner when they received a weather alert on one of the cell phones. Marianne told WHYY that “the clouds were intense and swift, then there was a sound like a freight train.” They, along with other family members, sheltered in the basement.

After the tornado moved away, the Eachus family emerged from the basement to find devastation as far as the eye could see. Per WHYY, “…two of their massive grain silos had toppled over. Some barns were completely reduced to concrete, roofs ripped off others, equipment was demolished, uprooted trees crashed into the old farmhouse.” A 12 by 16-foot piece of corrugated metal roof from one of the barns was tossed about eight miles away. In a September 14, 2021 article by The Trenton Times, the owner of the property the debris landed in stated, “It would have killed somebody or tore my house in half if it hit the house.”

A view of some of the destruction at the farm. Image from orthomosaics provided by Jamieson Allen and Fire Chief Scott Evans of Atlantic City Fire Department and Office of Emergency Management (EMA).
A wide aerial view looking from the farm back upwind along the track. Image from FEMA and the CAP.

Tragically, hundreds of cows became trapped under the shattered barns. At least 13 were killed, and many more were injured. WHYY stated, “A crew was milking when the twister ripped through and had only seconds to hide and hold on. They saw several cows swallowed by the funnel.” Challenges in production have continued. Cows need a consistent daily routine to be content and produce a lot of milk, so the massive disruption to their life has caused a 20% decrease in the amount of milk received.

The farm has had tremendous support from the local community. Businesses arrived to help clear debris. Some brought excavators to help free cows. The milking operation was functional as of the writing of the WHYY article. “It takes a village to rebuild an operation such as this that has been almost completely diminished in minutes,” said Hillary Stecher, a farmer who started a GoFundMe page for Wellacrest.

The damage swath that enveloped neighborhoods off of Jackson Road remained vast but lost some of its bite. Still, snapped and uprooted trees caused a great deal of damage to residences. It moved over a small subdivision on Lantern Way without much change.

The weakening damage swath across Jefferson Road. Image from Jamieson Allen of Atlantic City EMA.

It was in the vicinity of Breakneck Road that the structure evolved. Vegetation damage here was some of the worst along the path. Every last tree was completely delimbed, denuded, and in the heart of the storm, whittled down to splintered trunks snapped off not far above the ground. The first piece of footage shows the tornado’s weaker stage from exiting Wellacrest Farm to approaching Breakneck Road. The second video below from Twitter captured the brief re-intensification of the twister from where the first one ended.

Several images from NWS Mount Holly stitched together to show some of the damage off of Breakneck Road.
Intense tree damage off of Breakneck Road. Photo taken by Nelson Tucker.
A closer view of some of the worst tree damage. Photo taken by Nelson Tucker.

This intensity lasted just a couple of seconds. The tornado diminished to an EF0 and shrunk to about a third of a mile across. It crossed Heritage Road in far southwestern Mantua Township without doing much serious damage. However, the twister’s rampage was far from over. To continue following the stories of the track, click here for Chapter III.

The abruptly weakening damage swath of the tornado. Image from FEMA and the CAP.

Sources:

Damage Assessment Toolkit

NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Gloucester County

NWS Mount Holy Event Page

Google Earth

Google Maps

Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Browser

EF-3 tornado devastates Mullica Hill community

Facebook Post by Dave Fokas

Facebook Page of Mark Kobylinski

Geospatial Intelligence Consortium Gray Sky Imagery

Gloucester County Office of Emergency Management on ArcGIS

Wellacrest Farms inc. Facebook Page

Jamieson Allen (Atlantic City EMA)

Elizabeth Goss-Kaplan

Ray Kulpa

Alison Lynch

Jen Narramore

Alyson Newman

Evan Newman

Mike Trazzera

Burns, Kenneth. “Months after the tornadoes hit, Ida’s South Jersey victims enter a new phase of recovery.” WBGO, 3 Jan 2022. https://www.wbgo.org/news/2022-01-03/months-after-the-tornadoes-hit-idas-south-jersey-victims-enter-a-new-phase-of-recovery

Burns, Kenneth. “The cleanup continues in Mullica Hill and other parts of Gloucester County.” WBGO, 10 Sep 2021. https://whyy.org/articles/the-cleanup-continues-in-mullica-hill-and-other-parts-of-gloucester-county/

Corrado, Kerri. “‘This Is What We Do In A Small Town’: Mullica Hill Residents Continue Recovery Efforts Weeks After Tornado.” CBS Philly, 24 Sep 2021. https://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2021/09/24/mullica-hill-new-jersey-tornado-recovery-donations-supplies/

“EF-3 tornado devastates Gloucester County farms.” The New Jersey Farmer. https://americanfarmpublications.com/ef-3-tornado-devastates-gloucester-county-farms/

Gray, Matt. “Tornado carried storm debris for miles A homeowner in a residential neighborhood found a giant section of barn roof in his backyard..” Times, The (Trenton, NJ), TRT0 Main ed., sec. A, 14 Sep. 2021, p. 003 (online NewsBank).

Hartman, Trish. “’We’re lucky to be alive’: Cleanup continues following Mullica Hill, NJ tornado.” WPVI-TV Philadelphia, 9 Sep 2021.https://6abc.com/mullica-hill-tornado-ef-3-hits-gloucester-county-new-jersey-twister-storm-damage-in-south/11011141/

Iadonisi, Matteo. “’We can fix this and we will’: NJ tornado has residents grateful for community support.” WPVI-TV Philadelphia, 2 Sep 2021. https://6abc.com/tornado-nj-mullica-hill-south-jersey/10994739/

Joyce, Jennifer. “Mullica Hill family loses precious heirloom after tornado ravaged their home.” FOX29, 8 Sep 2021. https://www.fox29.com/news/this-is-most-important-mullica-hill-family-loses-precious-heirloom-after-tornado-destroys-their-home

Nark, Jason, and Goodin-Smith, Oona. “Communities turn to prayers and chainsaws in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 Sep 2021. https://www.inquirer.com/news/ida-tornado-damage-new-jersey-philadelphia-20210905.html

Paciolla, Christina. “New Jersey’s largest dairy farm nearly destroyed in tornado.” WHYY, 6 Sep 2021. https://whyy.org/articles/new-jerseys-largest-dairy-farm-nearly-destroyed-in-tornado/

Rambo, James. “F3 tornado destroys Gloucester County farms.” Morning AgClips, 5 Sep 2021. https://www.morningagclips.com/f3-tornado-destroys-gloucester-county-farms/

“Show Support for The Dagrosa Family.” gofundme. https://www.gofundme.com/f/show-support-for-the-dagrosa-family

Thompson, Brain. “NJ Farm Still Recovering After Tornado.” NBC New York, 12 Oct 2021. https://www.nbcnewyork.com/on-air/as-seen-on/nj-farm-still-recovering-after-tornado/3319351/

“Tornado Relief, Grasso Farm, Mullica Hill, NJ.” gofundme. https://gofund.me/d58ea980

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