HAVERHILL — Residents of the Hamel Mill Lofts waited nearly 48 hours to return home after a fast-moving storm Sunday night sent a bolt of lightning through the neighboring smokestack.

The property owner started contacting the roughly 100 displaced residents at 8 p.m. Tuesday, after the city's fire chief, structural engineer and inspector decided the building could be occupied again, according to a spokesperson for Mayor James Fiorentini.

After the historic brick smokestack bearing the words "L.H. Hamel Leather Co." was struck by lightening, brick fragments were sent crashing to the ground.

Officials immediately evacuated the building next door, fearful that the towering structure would collapse on the roof of the loft apartments.

An emergency shelter was set up at the Citizens Center on Welcome Street Sunday night for those displaced, but no one showed up, according to maintenance worker Robert Dunford.

Construction crews were seen the next day — brick by brick — starting the slow process of taking the smokestack down completely. 

Fiorentini said the removal is not a city project, so the owners of the lofts are footing the bill.

The project is ongoing, the spokesperson said Tuesday night, but officials deemed it completed enough for residents to go home.

Fiorentini said it's sad to see the tower destroyed, especially because of its historic significance to the city. It is part of the Hamel Leather Co. Historic District.

"This was such a great symbol of our city," Fiorentini said, "(but) safety has to come first.

Dorothy Forrestall, 69, of Bradford explained that her maternal grandfather, Louis H. Hamel, who owned the tannery in the current spot of the lofts, began his business career selling popcorn balls in the sixth grade to help pay bills and provide food and clothing for his mother and siblings after their father left the family.

According to Forrestall, Hamel then found scraps of discarded leather and would sell the re-purposed scraps back to nearby companies. At that time, he rented the basement of what's now The Tap Brewing Company and started his tannery there before moving to the smokestack's current location. Forrestall's father John J. Heffernan was a tanner at the location for 40 years.

Forrestall said she is a little sad to see the smokestack go, because "another great tribute to my grandfather will be missing from Haverhill."