When Jacob Green of the Portland Community Rowing Association arrived Tuesday night at East End Beach, he was stunned by the piles of debris left behind by a fast-moving storm that swept through Portland earlier that evening.

A rack that holds eight boats had been lifted up by the wind, thrown 30 yards and wrapped around a telephone pole. Seven of the nonprofit association’s eight rowing shells were destroyed. At neighboring Portland Paddle, a tandem kayak weighing 100 pounds had been blown off its own rack, and a half-dozen heavy paddleboards had been tossed up the beach.

A recently erected city park ranger station lies in ruins near East End Beach on Wednesday, a day after a fierce and short-lived storm cut a destructive swath through Portland. Meteorologists characterized it as a “downburst.”

“People told me it looked like a scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” Green, the association’s head coach, said Wednesday.

The damage was caused by a strong down current of air with intense rain and hail, said Taylor Patterson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Gray. In a downburst, cold air descends from the middle and upper levels of a thunderstorm, rolling out when it hits the ground, at times even stronger than tornado winds. Pea-sized hail was reported in Portland and buoys in Casco Bay recorded wind gusts of 57 mph, Patterson said. The path of destruction from west to east was narrow, with other parts of Portland and surrounding towns unscathed.

SAILBOATS SINK; ISLAND CLOSED

The storm knocked out power to nearly 4,000 customers, including 3,000 in Portland. In Falmouth, the causeway to Mackworth Island was shut down as telephone poles leaned precariously over the water, and the island will be closed for cleanup until at least Thursday. Portland Harbormaster Kevin Battle said two sailboats sank off Portland’s East End and another was still missing Wednesday. Five others capsized.

No one was aboard any of the sailboats, Battle said, and no one was injured during the storm.

“We had one gentleman who is a live-aboard who was on his boat,” Battle said. “He described it as a carnival ride. He said that it lasted for about four minutes, and then it was like somebody flipped a switch, it got calm again. It took him a while to get his hands to let go of the handrail because he had such a death grip.”

Nate Sigel of Waltham, Massachusetts, had been walking on Mackworth Island with a small group and his dogs when they heard thunder. The group was piling into the car when the first raindrops fell, but by the time he drove onto the causeway to the mainland, Sigel couldn’t see the road in front of him.

“We thought our car was going to blow away,” Sigel said. “I’ve never felt anything close to that strength.”

They pulled a jogger into the car two-thirds of the way down the causeway and waited for the conditions to die down.

“As we started to see, I said, ‘Let me get the hell off the bridge,’ ” Sigel said.

A dispatcher said the U.S. Coast Guard did not receive any distress calls related to the storm. The Portland emergency dispatch center was overwhelmed with calls about downed power lines and tree limbs and traffic lights out. In the Deering area, large trees fell across streets, yards and cars. Only a handful of customers were still without power in Cumberland County by Wednesday afternoon, but people were still cleaning up branches and other debris.

‘WORSE THAN ANYTHING I’VE EVER SEEN’

Near East End Beach, the pieces of broken rowing boats had been collected on the grass. Paddleboards with cracks in the bottom joined the pile.

Zack Anchors, owner of Portland Paddle, said his crew set out the paddleboards on the beach Tuesday in anticipation of a yoga class that would be delayed until the storm passed. Six of them were destroyed.

“One of the boards got picked up and thrown over the fence on the paved path,” Anchors said. “We figured it’d just be a little rain and a little wind, and it ended up being worse than anything I’ve ever seen.”

Anchors said he and another person tried to hold down a tandem kayak that started to blow off the rack. They gave up and took shelter in the Portland Paddle shipping container with 14 other people. They heard and felt tree branches and rowing boats slam into the side of the container, which was unscathed. Anchors feared a staff member who was missing had been hit by a boat or a tree branch, and was relieved to discover that person had taken shelter in the public bathrooms during the storm.

The paddleboards could cost several thousand dollars to replace, and some kayaks need repairs. Anchors said the damage shouldn’t impact their operations, and he feels worse for the rowing association.

“We’re fortunate nobody got hurt,” he said.

Green, the coach, estimated damage to the association’s equipment at about $100,000. The boats were insured, but he is unsure how much the association will get reimbursed. The shells are not easy to come by at affordable prices and the association had pieced together its fleet over the past decade, he said. The club’s most expensive boat is valued at around $40,000, but was purchased for $10,000 from another club.

Green said all rowing activities have been called off for the foreseeable future. The club includes 25 to 30 people. The association has started a GoFundMe page to help raise money to replace the rowing shells.

“We don’t have a lot of money to spend on boats,” Green said. “For all of it to be wrecked in one storm is upsetting a lot of people.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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