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Terrifying moments as waterspout touches down on Smith Island; massive recovery effort ahead

Shocking footage shows waterspout leaving 'significant damage' on Smith Island
Shocking footage shows waterspout leaving 'significant damage' on Smith Island 00:39

People on Smith Island rushed for cover when a tornadic waterspout came ashore just before sunset Thursday. The National Weather service confirms an EF-1 tornado with wind speeds of up to 110 miles an hour touched down in the iconic community, the only inhabited island in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.

Tiffanie Woutila started recording on her cell phone as the storm grew more intense. She told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren she never expected what happened next.

"We heard heavy rain. I got the phone out to take video of the thunderstorm. We had no idea it was a tornado until a roof flew in front of the house," Woutila said. "Once I heard the tornado pass, I looked out the back window and I saw the lady's house behind me was just completely collapsed."

Woutila ran out the door while the tornado was up the street to make sure the woman was OK. 

"Our neighbor was already out there before me," she said. "She was good. She's just got a couple cuts and bruises. They took her off to the hospital."

In all, 17 homes were damaged according to the governor's office. At least three were severely damaged. 

Now comes the challenging effort to restore power and clean it all up.

"I didn't think this could happen here," Woutila said. "I don't know how to process it, honestly. It's crazy. I don't have words for what happened here. There are just boats everywhere. Two pumps for the gas station are gone. The main ferry that brings over mail and other deliveries was ripped apart. The whole top came off apparently." 

Woutila said she doesn't know where a cleanup crew would feasibly start because there aren't any dumpsters. 

"We just have a little incinerator for the island trash," she said. "I have no idea how this effort is going to work. It's going to have to be massive. We're going to have to get barges with dumpsters."

The state said it would provide funding and some lawmakers called for federal assistance.

"My thoughts and support are with the residents of Smith Island affected by the storm last night. I'm looking to see if there is anything that the federal or state government can do to help," tweeted Rep. Andy Harris (R) who represents the area in Congress. 

Smith Island is a unique and historic part of Maryland—home to its namesake cake, Maryland's state dessert—and a way of life that has changed little since CBS News' Walter Cronkite narrated a documentary about the island in 1965. 

The fewer than 300 people who live there now have fought to preserve their way of life—and now a devastating new challenge as they recover from a fast-moving storm that took aim at this Maryland treasure.

Jay Fleming is a photographer with a love for the island. He is now raising money to help it rebuild. He told Hellgren that people on Smith Island have had a rough year already with decreased seafood harvests, and while they are resilient, "the money will go a long way to getting them back on their feet." 

More than $50,000 had been raised as of Friday evening.

"It's just so beautiful. The community is amazing. Everyone helps everybody" Woutila said. "It's like a fairytale town. I feel like I live in a Hallmark movie, honestly."

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