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Mall, Wesel Boulevard area struck by storm

June 17, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

A storm that blew through the Hagerstown area Tuesday evening cut a path of destruction through the Valley Mall and Wesel Boulevard areas.

At Valley Mall, high winds pulled away portions of the roof and smashed a large window in the vacant McCrory's store in the back of the mall.

Pieces of roofing and insulation were scattered around the outside of the mall, and firefighters said hundreds of feet of roof had been damaged.

J.C. Penney's loading dock was damaged.

Trees outside the movie theater entrance were snapped in half.

Investigators from the Fire Marshal's Office ordered the mall to be evacuated at 7 p.m., about 30 minutes after the storm hit.

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By 8 p.m., officials of Crown American, owners of the mall, had called in crews of roofing contractors.

"We want to secure the building and make sure it's safe," said Ron Formosa, senior general manager of Chambersburg Mall, which also is owned by Crown American. He was organizing repair efforts at Valley Mall.

Officials didn't know when the mall would reopen, and a building inspector was checking the building for safety.

J.C. Penney store manager Steve White and merchandising manager Jeff Schwaninger said the electricity went out at the mall when the storm roared through. Emergency lighting went out after 20 minutes, and customers were left in the dark until they were led from the store by rescue workers.

Power remained out later Tuesday night to the businesses on the mall side of Halfway Boulevard, including Toys R Us and Shoney's.

Halfway Fire Department was called in to investigate a report of an odor at the Montgomery Ward in the mall, but no fire was found.

The Valley Mall flagpole was bent over, and a stop sign was twisted. There were reports that signs on Interstate 81 had blown into the woods.

At Wal-Mart, a woman injured her leg when the force of the winds pushed her into the store and caused her to fall.

She was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, according to store manager Robert DeMartino.

When the storm hit, Wal-Mart employees moved customers to the center of the store, and teams of employees attempted to hold the front doors closed to keep out the wind and rain, said Diana Fittro, assistant manager.

Wal-Mart's outside, tented display of garden equipment, lawn furniture and plants was hard hit, with the tents smashed and snowblowers overturned.

A large canopy, which covered half the garden area of about 40 yards by 70 yards, was ripped apart.

"Grills were blowing across the parking lot," DeMartino said. Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and other stores had some roof leaks and minor interior water damage.

The Massey Lincoln Mercury Hyundai dealership's canopy was torn from a side entrance, flew over a side street and landed near the Crazy Horse Steakhouse and Saloon, said salesman Roy Hess.

Part of a flagpole smashed a car windshield, and the wind destroyed a glass door to the showroom.

The roof of an empty commercial building near Crazy Horse was torn off and lay across the road to the rear of the shopping center.

At Lowe's, members of Washington County Civil Defense were loading up plywood, plastic and two-by-fours to be used to help repair damaged homes and businesses, said Chief Robert Myerly.

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