Lightning Strike Tears Smokestack, Forcing Evacuation of Downtown Apartments

Engineer Paul A. Bergman of Bergman and Associates, Fire Chief William F. Laliberty, Building Inspector Thomas Bridgewater, Health and Inspectional Services Director Richard MacDonald and Police Deputy Anthony Haugh (not shown) survey the damage at the chimney. (WHAV News photograph.)

The lightning-damaged chimney, formerly used by the Louis H. Hamel Leather Co. (WHAV News photograph.)

As many as 100 to 150 residents of Hamel Mill Lofts in downtown Haverhill were evacuated Sunday afternoon after lightning struck an unused chimney, sending shards of bricks in many directions.

Officials deemed the approximately 140-foot landmark unsafe and demolition begins in the morning. Deep cracks down the structure were visible. Fire Chief William F. Laliberty said the inability to take down the chimney Sunday night caused officials to require the evacuation of apartments facing the structure.

“As the storm cleared, we took another look at it and felt it best to err on the side of caution here,” the chief told WHAV.

Laliberty said the afternoon rainstorm fortunately kept people inside and there were no injuries. Police placed yellow caution tape behind the 112-unit apartment complex and restricted access. A temporary shelter for those displaced was established at the Citizens Center and coordinated by the American red Cross.

Called at the request of Mayor James J. Fiorentini, engineer Paul A. Bergman said the noticeable removal of “air terminals”—what most people think of as lightning rods—contributed to the damage. He explained the terminals, if present, would have directed the lightning’s power to earth ground. “There’s no repairing it,” he added.

Haverhill Police Capt. Robert P. Pistone noted the scattered brick debris at the base of the shaft. He said the lightning strike caused pieces to fly as far back as the rail tracks behind. Pistone said the water-absorbing nature of bricks provided a perfect conductor for electricity.

The 1916-era building was used by the L.H. Hamel Leather Co. The company name appears vertically down the stack.

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