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Storm blasts area

Winds approach 70 mph;thousands lose power

Winds approach 70 mph;thousands lose power

June 28, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

A storm packing winds of between 60 and 70 mph hopscotched through parts of Washington County late Thursday afternoon, ripping out trees in its path.

"There was mostly straight-line wind damage in Washington County," said Neal DiPasquale, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sterling, Va. "We sometimes refer to that type of storm as a microburst."

The storm hit at about the same time dispatchers at Washington County Fire and Rescue Communications were getting the National Weather Service warning of the approaching storm.

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"Storms like this are hard to predict," Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer said. "They tend to just explode right over the area."

At one point, more than 5,000 electric customers in Washington County were without power, Allegheny Power spokeswoman Sandy Kiebler said. By 10 p.m., power to about 3,580 customers had been restored, Kiebler said.

"Crews will be working through the night but some customers may have to wait until sometime Friday to be restored," Kiebler said.

The wind picked up the heavy wood timber swing set from the yard of Jim and Gretchen Vaughn's Smithsburg home Thursday afternoon and turned it into kindling.

"I didn't see a funnel but I felt the whole house shake the wind was so strong," said Gretchen Vaughn, who was still without electricity at 9:25 p.m. During the storm, she grabbed her sleeping son and went to the basement for safety, she said.

The area hardest hit was east of Hagerstown along Edgewood Drive, Brightwood Acres and several roads in the Funkstown area, along with the Smithsburg/Ringgold area.

Fire and ambulance companies began receiving calls of storm damage at 5:20 p.m. Dozens of fire and ambulance companies were sent to handle transformer fires, downed trees and wires and reports of roofs being blown off homes.

There was a report of a person struck by lightning in the vicinity of Annapolis Rock along the Appalachian Trail, said John Surrick of the Department of Natural Resources Police.

That person was taken by Boonsboro ambulance to Washington County Hospital for treatment early Thursday evening, Surrick said. No further details were available late Thursday.

A tree fell on a propane tank at Younger Toyota at 1935 Dual Highway, fire officials said. The tank was secured and the tree was removed, they said.

The storm unleashed its fury on Joe and Wanda Gerstner's home at 17 Bittersweet Drive.

"I had just gotten home from Washington, D.C.," said Joe Gerstner. "The storm hit and two big trees went down in the front yard and one in the back."

All three missed the house the Gerstners have lived in for 25 years.

Neighbors with chainsaws joined Funkstown firefighters as the trees were cleared from the yard and the road.

When the top came out of Jim and Ida Cavil's huge poplar tree during the storm, part of it damaged the roof of their home at 103 Greenwood Drive while other branches buckled a short section of chain link fence.

"We just got home ... there were branches all around the car in the driveway but not one hit the car," said Ida Cavil.

Without being asked, several neighbors brought handsaws and began working to clear the branches.

"I can see some trim damage near the gutter," said Ida Cavil. "And my lilac bushes ... there are branches all on top of them.

Gretchen Vaughn said her prized hollyhock "looked like an elephant sat on it."

Wires were reported down in Mount Aetna area, on Robinwood Drive and Leathers Road. A tree fell across the road on Summers Lane and others were down on roads between Funkstown and Dual Highway.

There was a report of a roof blown off on Mong Road in Ringgold, fire officials said.

Dr. Nicholas Long said it looked like a hurricane blew through his farm at 226 Landis Road. The storm felled 150-year-old willow trees and blew a hole in the side of his barn.

"It looks like a bomb had blasted. It's devastating," he said.

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