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Winds wallop West Virginia

July 22, 1998

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

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Winds tear through WVBy CLYDE FORD and BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writers

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - A storm packing winds up to 80 mph roared through the Eastern Panhandle Tuesday night, downing trees, damaging homes and leaving thousands without electricity or telephone service.

At least one injury was reported after lightning struck near a home in the Potomac Hills subdivision in northern Berkeley County.

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Kathy Fiddler, was taken to Washington County Hospital by ambulance after lightning struck a tree 15 yards from her back patio door where she was watching the storm, according to her daughter, Heather Kave.

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Kave said she did not know whether her mother was shocked by the lightning strike or fell backwards from the impact.

Fiddler was still being assessed in the emergency room at press time, a hospital spokeswoman said.

There were no reports of damaged homes or injuries in Jefferson or Morgan counties, according to emergency dispatchers.

Damage from the storm, which struck about 6 p.m., was heavy in the Potomac Hills subdivision. Trees were downed, a metal shed was hurled off its foundation, a barn partially collapsed and a boat was struck by lightning.

Paul Pearson, 38, of High Cliff Road in Potomac Hills, said he was standing on his front porch, watching the storm until he saw a funnel cloud pass nearby.

"The woods just kind of opened up and a big old funnel cloud, like, went through the tree tops," Pearson said. "It just busted up the trees. It just looked like a plow going through the dirt."

Neighbor Linda McCloud had just arrived home when the storm hit.

"I wanted to get in the house because lightning was striking all around," McCloud said.

She went up to the second floor when she heard the sound of trees cracking. "I ran into the basement and 'boom,'" McCloud said.

Outside, a 150-foot tree had landed on the center of the roof, balancing precariously across its peak.

Lightning is believed to have struck Lew Darling's boat. Witnesses said they heard a loud crack and then saw black smoke rising from the boat. "I just finished restoring it," Darling said as he looked at the burned-up remains of the fiberglass boat.

Norma Geyer, of High Cliff Road, said she was watching from her kitchen window when she saw a funnel cloud pass above the field.

"I said, 'Oh my God! It's a tornado!' It knocked my swing over. It lifted my picnic table up and threw it in my swimming pool. I'm scared of storms, but this is the first time I ever ran," Geyer said.

"There was a sound that I just can't describe it. My husband Joe said, 'We've got to get to the basement,'" said Rita Wilson.

"We heard a roar like a train," Joe Wilson said.

Barbara Watson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said there were two reports of 80 mph winds in the Panhandle and that pilots detected a funnel cloud in Montgomery County, Md.

"They were really moving fast," Watson said. "The storm really hit hard in Berkeley County and into Jefferson County."

Watson said the storms were narrow, hugging the Potomac River in the northern parts of Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia and the southern part of Washington County.

There were no confirmed tornado sightings. Watson said the Panhandle experienced a "microburst," the meteorological term for wind that smashes into the ground and then spreads out.

Allegheny Power spokeswoman Midge Teahan said downed power lines and damaged transformers knocked out power for about 10,000 customers in the Panhandle.

Power also was disrupted for about 100 people in Hancock and about 1,050 customers in the rest of Washington County.

About 1,000 customers in Frederick, Md., and 200 in Brunswick, Md., also lost power, Teahan said.

Teahan said crews would work around the clock to restore service.

Harry Mitchell, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic, said the company had received no reports about disrupted phone service, although he added reports might come in later.

Eddie Foltz, a crew leader with the Berkeley County Department of Highways, said the wind knocked trees down on roughly 20 roads in the northern part of the county.

Foltz said crews with heavy machinery were clearing the largest trees. Smaller vehicles were sent to take care of the rest.

By about 7:40 p.m., calls to the Jefferson County office of the Highway Department had trickled to a few.

Dillow estimated 20 to 25 roads in the Shepherdstown area were affected.

Washington County emergency service dispatchers reported downed trees and power lines in the Clear Spring, Williamsport and Sharpsburg areas. They said some residents in the southern part of the county lost power and phone service.

The storm made a brief but intense pass through Shepherdstown, W.Va., felling numerous trees and limbs, downing power lines and seriously damaging at least two cars, according to Shepherdstown Police Chief Cecil M. Arnold.

It wreaked havoc on the Shepherd College campus, which was littered with leaves and tree limbs large and small.

Arnold said he was warned of a funnel cloud heading toward Shepherdstown on Flowing Springs Road, but there were no reported sightings in town.

A tree limb fell onto a car parked at the town's old train station, completely covering it and breaking through the windshield, he said.

The roof of a Mercedes parked on Prospect Street, just outside of town limits, was crushed and its windows were knocked out, Arnold said.

Staff Writer Kerry Lynn Fraley contributed to this story.

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