Most people in Caroga Lake had never seen anything quite like Saturday night’s storms.
It was hard to find the words to describe what happened that snapped pine trees in half, downed wires throughout the Pine Lake Campground and flattened dozens of vehicles. Those who tried to recall the scene called it unnerving, scary and something out of a movie or news program.
“We went from having a music festival with people dancing and singing to devastation,” said Leslie Houck, one of the owners of the campground, who was referring to the Eddie Music Festival at the Pine Lake Park nearby.
Severe weather ripped through the Capital Region on Saturday night, sending people running for cover from Saratoga Race Course to Fulton County campgrounds. The storms roared into Caroga Lake during music festival, an annual event that attracted about 2,000 people to Pine Lake Park for 12 hours of entertainment. At least eight people were injured. Nearly a full day after the damage was done, crews were still on the scene trying to clean up what was left.
Eight people were injured at Pine Lake Park on Saturday night during the storms, and were taken in ambulances to area hospitals, said Barb DeLuca, Caroga Lake fire chief. There was no update Sunday afternoon on their conditions.
Responders with the Caroga Lake Fire Department received assistance from surrounding community agencies, including the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department and first responders from nearby Johnstown.
A few members of the Fire Department said they were at the scene until about 3 a.m. Sunday, then returned around 7:30 in the morning to get back to work. Roads through the campground had to be closed down Sunday and people were evacuated, one official said, so that crews could clear out fallen trees and limbs without campers in the area.
The Houck family has owned the campground at Pine Lake for 45 years. Chardel Houck, who has been there since 1971, said the closest thing she can recall to Saturday’s destruction is a microburst from almost 10 years ago.
“That took the tops of trees, but this was different,” she said. “This was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The trees were everywhere, like maybe we had a tornado or something.”
Leslie Houck estimated 150 RVs and camping vehicles were at the park Saturday night. Of those, she said, 35 were destroyed, another 20 were seriously damaged and dozens had significant damage.
Officials had roped off most of the campground as downed trees and wires still needed to be cleaned up in areas. One side of the campground took the brunt of the storm, while the other came away with only minor damage, officials said.
One campsite reflected the worst of the wreckage. “Club Chill” cups of soda sat half full on a table just next to a fallen tree that crushed a golf cart and fell through the window of an RV. Just next to that RV was a Chevy sedan with a smashed windshield.
A Fire Department worker said she heard the RV was purchased only a couple weeks ago.
More people were in the park for The Eddie Music Festival, which turned out to be both fortunate and unfortunate. John Lakata, one of the festival organizers, said the event is in memory of his brother, Eddie, who died when he was hit by a car while riding his bike up to Caroga Lake. The festival is held in mid-August, and is meant as a tribute to Eddie’s influence on the local music community. It was supposed to last from noon Saturday until midnight.
Lakata said there were light showers periodically, but dark clouds rolled in around 6:30 p.m.
“That last storm, when it came through, it was amazing,” he said. “It wasn’t a tornado, but it certainly had the effects of a tornado.”
Panic set in for those at the concert who were separated from their families and children while scrambling for shelter, Leslie Houck said. However, within a few hours, everyone at the music festival was accounted for, she said.
Attendees took cover in tents and a pavilion at the festival, which was in a more open area of the park. Lakata said it was difficult to fully assess the destruction until after the storm had passed, when it became evident that areas among the trees took the most significant damage.
“I think the festival, because that was going on, there were very few people in the campground, so I think that was a saving grace,” he said, adding that a couple thousand people attended on Saturday. “Most people seemed to be out at the event, not at the campers.”
As of Sunday afternoon, about 9,000 people in the Capital Region remained without power. In the meantime the office at the campground is running on a generator and crews are removing debris.
“It’s something that’s out of anybody’s control,” Lakata said. “Of all the days for it to hit, it was probably the worst day of the year for that place to have that happen.”