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Elmira, N.Y., hit by suspected tornado as storms slam Northeast, knock out power to thousands

Updated 2:38 a.m. Eastern

(CBS/AP) ELMIRA, N.Y. - The Chemung County emergency management director says buildings are damaged and hospitals are on disaster status after a possible tornado hit the city of Elmira and violent storms across the Northeast left at least one man dead.

Officials confirmed to WCBS in New York that one 61-year-old man was killed after lightning struck a church in Brooklyn, causing scaffolding to collapse.

The man, whose name wasn't immediately released, died at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. The deadly bolt of lightning hit the 175-year-old Christ Church in the Cobble Hill area as high winds and rains beat down, causing significant damage.

Michael Smith, the emergency management director in Chemung County, where Elmira is located, said the storm that hit at 4 p.m. on Thursday brought down trees and power lines, tore roofs off some buildings and caused motor vehicle accidents.

Suspected tornado damage in Elmira, NY
Firefighters at the scene of an electric fire after a suspected tornado struck in Elmira, N.Y., July 26, 2012. AP

Dustin Hewit, a spokesman for the Arnot Health System, which runs two hospitals in the region, told CBS News they were treating "fewer than five" patients with storm-related injuries, none of which appeared to be serious. A shelter was being opened for displaced residents.

Utilities reported more than 20,000 customers without power in the area.

The storms moved through New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Thursday afternoon and evening, CBS Station WCBS reported. Power outages were reported throughout the tri-state area, and the storms halted trains in Long Island. Passengers had to leave a Long Island Rail Road train on the Oyster Bay line because a tree crashed down on the tracks, preventing service.

Storm clouds gather over Manhattan's east side
Clouds gather over apartment buildings ahead of a thunderstorm on the east side of Manhattan July 26, 2012, in New York. Getty

JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano said about 14,000 utility customers were without power by about 8:30 p.m. He said the outages were spread across northern and southern New Jersey.

The National Weather Service said winds were expected to reach up to 60 mph with quarter-sized hail.

There were also power outages as the storms moved across Connecticut, but no widespread major damage was reported.

Connecticut Light and Power reported about 13,000 outages in southwestern Connecticut at 9 p.m. Thursday, mostly in Bethel, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield and Seymour. United Illuminating reported about 6,500 customers without power in southern Connecticut, most in Shelton and Stratford. A tornado watch for Litchfield County was allowed to expire, with no tornadoes reported. A severe thunderstorm watch for the rest of the state was cancelled mid-evening, as the storms weakened and moved offshore.

A flash flood watch remained in effect overnight for eastern Connecticut.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had partially activated Connecticut's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday afternoon as a precaution.

In Pennsylvania, sweltering heat gave way to the severe thunderstorms and high winds across much of the state, leaving more than 100,000 residents without electricity.

PPL Utilities reports power outages were affecting more than 3,700 customers in the Harrisburg area and over 20,000 people in northeastern Pennsylvania. Numbers were higher earlier Thursday.

Many trees were down across the state. Officials in western Pennsylvania's Jefferson County say there might have been a tornado in Barnett.

The National Weather Service discontinued severe weather watches for Massachusetts but said there could be more rain on Friday, in Massachusetts and the wider region.