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Storms knock out power, fell trees

July 29, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - About 3,000 Allegheny Power customers in Jefferson and Berkeley counties were without power Monday afternoon after a line of severe thunderstorms passed through the area, felling trees and sending emergency crews scrambling to reports of lightning strikes.

The storm largely missed Washington County, but officials in Frederick County, Md., and Franklin County, Pa., reported weather activity.

"I stand to lose everything in my store. Our power is still out," Betty Cochran, the owner of the Shanghai Grocery, said several hours after the storms struck.

Cochran, whose store is located at the intersection of Route 7 and Buckhill Road, believed a tornado may have passed close by. A lightning strike caused a valve on a 1,000 gallon propane tank outside her store to break.

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Firefighters from the Back Creek Volunteer Fire Co. were able to bleed off the propane without a fire or explosion.

The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Jefferson County at 4:25 p.m., but not for Berkeley County where the Shanghai Grocery is located. Jefferson County Emergency Services officials reported numerous instances of trees and power lines down near Shannondale and Keys Gap between 4:30 and 5 p.m., according to the weather service.

National Weather Service personnel had no information about a possible tornado in West Virginia, although they were looking into the possibility of a tornado associated with the storm in Virginia.

Mary Lynn Sacco, a communications specialist for Allegheny Power, said about 1,000 customers were without power in the Shannondale area in Jefferson County and another 600 to 700 in Shepherdstown. Power was out to 300 to 400 customers in the Inwood area of Berkeley County. Smaller outages were scattered through the two counties.

Sacco said the company hoped to have "large chunks" of power restored by midnight, but could not estimate when all service would be restored.

Berkeley County Central Dispatch began getting indications of a big storm shortly after 4 p.m. with a report of trees down near Shanghai.

Evening Shift Supervisor Margaret Hoogland said electrical interference caused the dispatch center to briefly use a standby system.

Along the eastern end of the county there was a report of a utility pole, debris and a small outbuilding being blown across the CSX tracks.

A utility pole behind the empty Handy Andy's store near Inwood was struck by lightning at 4:16 p.m. and lightning caused a tree to catch fire on Poorhouse Road about 15 minutes later.

Officials in Jefferson County were surveying damage at 9 p.m.

Maryland State Police Sgt. Steve Ganley said the storm hit with a vengeance at about 5 p.m. After blowing down trees and signs and knocking out power, though, it left pretty quickly.

"I'd say within a half-hour, it was out of here. It still rained, but is was more of a general rain. Before that, it was windy, pretty violent," Ganley said.

Allegheny Power spokeswoman Debbie Beck said about 500 customers in Frederick and western Montgomery counties were still without power late Monday. About 30 customers in Washington County briefly lost power, she said.

Ganley said construction signs were blown over on Md. 26. He said state troopers also briefly directed traffic in the Ceresville area when traffic lights were knocked out.

Washington County appeared to have fared the best. Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said the Little League tournament proceeded on schedule.

- Staff Writer Brendan Kirby contributed to this story.

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