Storm damages W.Va. houses, trees

June 17, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

by RIC DUGAN / staff photographer


Tarp on roof

RIDGEWAY, W.Va. - The storm hit the home of Vera Hartless so hard Tuesday night that she was frightened as she ran from the security of the concrete block basement to a nearby metal and plywood tool shed where her husband was working.

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"I felt safer with him," said Hartless, 53. "If we were going to go, we were going to go together."

Vera and Robert Hartless, 52, waited out the fierce thunderstorm in the shed as the wind ripped off the back porch of their home in southern Berkeley County.

Two large trees were toppled, one about 10 feet in front of the shed and another about 10 feet behind it. A larger tree between the two remained standing.


Vera Hartless believes if it had fallen, it would have crushed the shed.

"It was scary," she said.

After the storm ended, they discovered the roof had been torn off the back half of the house off Buckhorn Road where they have lived for 16 years. The back porch supports were knocked off their concrete bases, causing the decking to lean precariously.

Within an hour after the storm passed, friends and family began to arrive and worked throughout the night to put plastic over the missing roof area. On Wednesday, the volunteers returned to begin cleaning up the destruction from the front yard.

A large section of roof blew into two pine trees lining the driveway with enough force to topple them.

The storm downed countless trees and power lines in Berkeley County, said Berkeley County Emergency Services Director Stephen Allen.

Most of the trees that fell were in the northern part of the county near the Jefferson County border and in the southern part of Berkeley County near Ridgeway, just north of the Virginia line, Allen said.

No injuries were reported. Allen said one barn was reported to have lost its roof along W.Va. 45. He said the Hartless home was the only one that appeared to have been seriously damaged.

A National Weather Service survey team toured parts of Berkeley County on Wednesday to try to confirm whether a tornado had struck the area, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Dougherty. He said there was one unconfirmed report of a tornado sighting in northern Berkeley County.

The survey team will look at the damage patterns, and the type and location of debris. Debris in a circular pattern or trees that appear twisted indicate a tornado, Dougherty said. Debris in straight lines indicates the damage came from high winds.

Cary Kidwell, 44, who lives in the Horner subdivision off W.Va. 45, about five miles east of Martinsburg, said he believes he saw a twister about 200 yards from his home. He said he was looking out his back window about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when he saw a funnel cloud at treetop height.

"The wind blew like you wouldn't believe," Kidwell said.

He said he saw the funnel for less than 10 seconds before "it mysteriously disappeared."

Dougherty said it is possible the cloud could have been a weak one that broke up quickly. Funnel clouds become tornadoes when they strike the ground, he said.

Two Martinsburg, W.Va., teenagers were fishing in a pond when the storm hit almost directly beneath where Kidwell indicated the funnel cloud had passed.

"It was real sunny and everything and it suddenly got all black," said Wayne Cook, 13.

Cook and his friend, Junior McMahan III, 17, said the wind blew so hard it nearly knocked them over and they were struck by golf ball-sized hail.

"I got this bruise from being hit by one," Cook said, pointing to a fist-sized mark on his upper right arm.

"It was even hard to run because it was blowing us off into the weeds and stuff," McMahan said. "I looked back and I seen it blowing him sideways."

The two sought shelter at a stranger's house about 50 yards from the pond until the storm passed.

"I know if I even see a cloud in the sky the next time I go fishing, I'm going home," McMahan said.

Jefferson County escaped nearly unscathed, according to officials in the Jefferson County 911 center, West Virginia State Police, other police agencies and fire departments.

Harpers Ferry Police Chief Charles Wyndham said a tree fell next to a house on Filmore Street, causing minor damage to the drain spouting. About five trees fell along a wooded area of Shenandoah Street, he said.

related stories:

Tornado accounts

Some areas still without power day after tornadoes hit

Wednesday night storm adds to outages

Winds batter Tri-State area

Storm damages W.Va. houses, trees

Witnesses say they saw Pa. twister

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