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National Weather Service says EF2 tornado touched down in N.J.

Cleanup underway after EF2 tornado touches down in Mercer County, N.J.
Cleanup underway after EF2 tornado touches down in Mercer County, N.J. 03:26

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) -- Weather officials confirmed that storm damage in New Jersey Tuesday was caused by a tornado.

The NWS rated the tornado that touched down was an EF2. It had peak winds of 110-115 MPH and lasted about six minutes.

The NWS says the tornado was about 200 yards wide and traveled just less than six miles. 

Officials from the National Weather Service were in Mercer County on Wednesday surveying the damage after fast-moving storms uprooted trees that landed on homes and cars, causing significant damage.

They started in Lawrence Square Village and were there for a few hours before moving east along the path of the tornado, assessing its damage.

The storm and tornado left dozens homeless as the community cleaned up Wednesday. We saw trees that were knocked over, and one split down the middle, leaving branches littering the sidewalks and roofs.


Lawrence Township Police Chief Chris Longo said the damage was unlike anything he'd seen before.

"In my 23 years here, I haven't seen this type of damage in February," Longo said, noting he would await further information from the NWS. But "it's not common."

"I've seen it on TV, it's happening to other places, but I never thought it would happen to me or somewhere around us. I feel like nothing really happens like that around here," resident Julia Muziani said.

Roofers and tree removal services were working long hours in Lawrence Square Village during the cleanup.

A spokesperson for the Red Cross said at least 27 units in the complex are uninhabitable. Upwards of 100 people have been displaced from their homes.

The storm damage unfolded in a matter of minutes Tuesday.

How did N.J. tornado form? What rating will it be given? 01:30

According to NEXT Weather meteorologists Kate Bilo and Tammie Souza, a storm cell over Mercer County Tuesday afternoon was showing signs of possible rotation Tuesday as gusty showers rolled through.

While February tornadoes have been rare, we've counted four in New Jersey since 1950 and seven in Pennsylvania.

Around 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, the West Windsor Communications Center was flooded with calls from people reporting a significant weather event in progress.

Minutes later, it was over, but the damage was done: power lines were taken down and trees were uprooted out of the ground and ended up on top of vehicles and homes.

The developments of Dutch Neck Estates and Jefferson Park are among the most affected areas.

Many of the residents we talked to didn't think much of the noise they were hearing until they walked outside and saw the damage left behind.

"As we were coming out, we noticed that the tree fell on the car," resident Aisha Lee said.

Resident JJ Malyska heard a noise that he couldn't identify at first.

"And then the noise got louder, I opened the front door, saw thunder and lightning, hail came down," Malyska said.

Lee said she was lucky she didn't leave sooner.

Red Cross volunteers assist displaced neighbors 02:03

"This could've been me and my kids in the car," Lee said.

Since the storm hit, firefighters have been going door to door checking on affected residents, and officers have been helping with road closures as a result of downed trees and power lines.

As crews cleared numerous trees from her yard, Pam Grund says her teenage children were at home by themselves when they got a text alert from the county telling them to seek cover.

"I'm just so grateful that our township was able to send that text because it gave my kids a minute or two to actually get in the basement," Grund said. 

When she got home, she was stunned to see trees strewn all across her property.

"It was like out of a movie," Grund said. "You just couldn't believe it, and it happened so fast."

And like the movies, this has a happy ending – no one was injured – but it left neighbors with some lessons.

Residents who need help are being told to go to the clubhouse of Lawrence Square Village, where the Red Cross will be providing additional resources.

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