When lightning strikes

Police tape blocks access to an area near Hamel Loft Mills in Haverhill on Sunday after the smokestack was damaged by lightning. MIKE SPRINGER/Staff photo

An old factory smokestack that stood for decades is coming down, after it was hit with lightning and began to crumble, threatening people in nearby apartments.

Nearly 100 residents were forced to evacuate Hamel Mill Lofts apartments after lightning struck the historic smokestack Sunday afternoon, according to Mayor James Fiorentini.

Fiorentini said a bolt of lightning hit the tall smokestack that displays the words "Hamel Leather," leaving a large crack running vertically through the wording. He said the smokestack was severely damaged and electricity was out in parts of the apartment building.

Portions of two buildings were forced to evacuate, Fiorentini said. He said on Sunday that residents were likely to be displaced for two nights while the smokestack was removed starting Monday morning.

That plan changed on Monday, however, when the mayor said it would likely take three days to remove the smokestack, leaving people out of their homes possibly longer than two days.

Removal work had not begun as of midday Monday.

Fiorentini said a crane would eventually start taking down the smokestack and residents would be able to move back in when the stack was about a third or half removed — with no possibility of crumbling on its own.

The Citizens Center at 10 Welcome St. has been open as an emergency shelter. Fiorentini said the American Red Cross was also called in to help find temporary shelter for people forced from their apartments.

"I was very impressed with the whole emergency team," Fiorentini said. "They had a plan and they executed it very, very well."

The mayor said the plan included sending out an email to notify people they had to evacuate and also going door to door to make sure they were leaving in case they had not seen the email.

Hamel Mills Lofts is one of several apartment complexes that have opened in downtown Haverhill in old abandoned factory buildings that were once part of the city's shoe-making industry.

The apartment complexes have been a key part of the resurgence of downtown, bringing in residents who walk from their homes to nearly restaurants, bars and other businesses, boosting the economy of the city center.





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