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N.Y. state official among 3 killed during powerful storms

By Khara Lewin, CNN
updated 4:30 PM EDT, Fri July 27, 2012
  • A tornado touched down in Montrose, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, forecasters said
  • "Trees were bending sideways," a man in New Jersey says
  • The National Weather Service reports possible tornado touchdowns in the Northeast

(CNN) -- An assistant New York state attorney general was killed during severe storms that barreled through the Northeast, killing at least two others as they unleashed strong winds and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

"On behalf of all New Yorkers, I would like to express my sympathy to the loved ones of Assistant Attorney General Richard Schwartz, who tragically lost his life during last night's severe storm," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Friday.

The storms struck Thursday, and at one point that evening, severe thunderstorm watches were in effect for a continuous stretch from Oklahoma through New Jersey.

In Pennsylvania, a tree crushed a woman in her car as she sought shelter at a campsite, killing her, said Glenn Dunn, the emergency management coordinator for Potter County.

Tornadoes touched down in the Pennsylvania towns of Coudersport and Montrose on Thursday, forecasters said after conducting a survey of the area.

The one in Coudersport was rated an EF-1 with a maximum wind speed of 90 mph, and the Montrose one was an EF-0 with maximum winds of 80 mph, the National Weather Service said.

The service also reported that damage in Elmira, New York, was caused by an EF-1 tornado with estimated maximum wind speeds as high as 110 mph.

In New York City, a 61-year-old man died Thursday when lightning struck a Brooklyn church, sending a scaffold crashing down on him, authorities said.

Lightning flashes across the sky Thursday, July 26, in Nyack, New York, in this dramatic photo from CNN iReporter Eric Girard. Storms ripped through the Northeast on Thursday night, unleashing strong winds and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers. Lightning flashes across the sky Thursday, July 26, in Nyack, New York, in this dramatic photo from CNN iReporter Eric Girard. Storms ripped through the Northeast on Thursday night, unleashing strong winds and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers.
Storms strike the Northeast
Photos: Storms strike the Northeast Photos: Storms strike the Northeast
Heavy storm damage in New York
Crews struggle with storm-damaged roads
Watch time-lapse of severe Chicago storm

Witnesses reported trees in the region buckling under the severe weather's impact.

"The trees were bending sideways, (and) the sky just went really dark and green," Mark Ventrini, a photographer, reported seeing as he headed toward Belmar, New Jersey. "Some of the storms were pretty intense."

Emergency managers in Broome County, New York, reported people trapped inside a home because of downed trees in the town of Vestal.

Strong storms also caused damage in Binghamton, New York, but the weather service said no injuries or fatalities were reported there.

There were also extensive power outages. More than 100,000 First Energy customers in Pennsylvania didn't have electricity Thursday night, while other utilities such as PECO and PPL reported tens of thousands of others similarly in the dark.

Cuomo issued a news release stating there were nearly 95,000 homes and businesses without power in New York state, mostly NYSEG and Central Hudson customers.

He also declared a state of emergency for hard-hit Chemung County in the southwestern part of the state.

"The brunt of the storm itself was intense but short -- there was very strong rain and wind for about 15 minutes, at which point the rain cleared and the lightning show began," said Matthew Burke, a CNN iReporter who photographed lightning sprawling across the New York City skyline.

Stunning pictures arise from New York storm

Finding beauty in violent storms

CNN's Greg Botelho, Lila King, Julie Cannold and Dominique Dodley contributed to this report.

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