Storm strikes area

County residents lose trees, roofs and power

County residents lose trees, roofs and power

May 26, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE and SCOTT BUTKI

Mike Mears was watching a movie at Hagerstown Cinema 10 on Tuesday evening when the power went out and hail and high winds hit the area.

So Mears headed up Leitersburg Pike to check on his job - the construction of a large addition to Valley Supply & Equipment Co. Inc. that LBM General Construction started building about six months ago.

The new office building was a pile of steel girders, concrete, insulation and Styrofoam after a severe thunderstorm swept through the area at about 6 p.m., leaving several thousand people without electricity, many traffic lights out or flashing, and a trail of debris in yards, roads and on houses. Some trees fell on houses.


About an inch of rain fell in about 10 minutes, according to the Web site of local weather observer Greg Keefer.

The storm, which at one point prompted a tornado warning from the National Weather Service, brought hail and winds at least as high as 60 mph and probably higher, National Weather Service spokeswoman Jackie Hale said.

Those winds helped lift the new roof off Valley Supply's addition, leaving part of it on the neighboring Knights of Columbus building.

"I had six guys working on the roof today. They had just left," Mears said.

"It was an addition. Now it looks like a subtraction," he said.

There was talk in the Leitersburg area of a possible tornado, with people reporting seeing things spinning in the air.

Hale said the weather service got numerous reports of funnel clouds in Washington County and hail the size of half dollars or golf balls.

The reports were indicative of a tornado, but weather service officials won't be able to say whether a tornado touched down until they survey the damage, Hale said. The weather service was expected to send people to the area today.

The storm was the result of a warm front coming up and a cold front coming down, which usually results in quite a collision, she said.

"It had to be quite a bit of a wind gust," Valley Supply Branch Manager Gary Divelbiss said as he surveyed the damage of the addition under construction. Divelbiss said the storm would set back the project, which was to be completed in September, by six months to a year.

"Nobody's hurt. That was the important thing. Everything can be redone," Divelbiss said.

As of 9:30 p.m., a few hours after the storm swept through Washington County, there were no reports of injuries related to the storm, said Scott Wolff, evening shift supervisor with Washington County Fire and Rescue Communications.

Most of the more severe damage occurred in the Hagerstown and Long Meadow/Leitersburg areas, with reports of some trees down on houses, Wolff said.

Thomas Hutchinson was drinking beer with friend Jim Hartman in his 527 Summit Ave. apartment when they looked outside to Hutchinson's backyard to see the oak tree larger than his two-story house twisting around.

Then it uprooted and fell, landing on the corner of the house.

"It sounded like a cannon going off," Hutchinson said. Part of the attic was damaged along with one apartment window, he said.

Park damage

Hagerstown City Park and the roads around it were closed Tuesday night after more than two dozen trees came down in the storm, said John Budesky, Hagerstown's director of administrative services.

At least six trees were blocking the road near the Mansion House, Budesky said. The goal was to remove the trees and get the roads reopened by this morning, he said.

One of the trees fell on the park concession stand building, causing minor damage, he said.

Farther north in the Leitersburg area, not far from Valley Supply, at least two homes on Shahan Road and another on Clopper Road had holes in their roofs from trees crashing down, Leitersburg Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Kirk Mongan said.

Approximately 25 firefighters were cutting the fallen trees off the houses and patching the holes with plastic to make things safer for the homeowners, he said.

Mongan said he believed the residents would be able to stay in their homes Tuesday night.

Power outages

As of about 9 p.m., 2,900 Allegheny Energy customers were without power in Washington County, spokesman Allen Staggers said. Power had already been restored to about 1,500 customers in the Mount Lena area, he said.

Staggers said about 1,200 customers in the Leitersburg area and just more than 1,000 in the Hancock area were still without power Tuesday night.

A woman answering the phone at the Hagerstown Light Department said there were many customers in the city without power, but could not provide details.

Staggers said some Allegheny customers could be without power overnight because a lot of the outages were scattered over the county.

No power meant no air conditioning, but Margaret Stouffer, 69, of Herman Myers Road, said she'd be OK.

Stouffer was home when she lost two of the seven maple trees on the property.

Two trees landed on the garage, but there didn't appear to be major damage inside, said her son, Randy Stouffer, 43, who lives on the other side of the rancher duplex.

A huge tree fell toward a neighbor's house, but was caught by another tree before it could hit the house.

Further west on Leitersburg Pike, the Wilkins family was surveying the damage from half of the roof of a neighboring barn being ripped off and spread over several acres, including their property.

Looking out his basement window during the storm, Jeff Wilkins, 50, said he saw things spinning in the air.

His neighbor, 14-year-old Brittany Clevenger, looked out her dining room window and saw the family's belongings from the front porch flying by.

The two families aren't sure it was a tornado that came up their lane and ripped part of the barn roof off, but something did.

"I didn't hear anything because I was with the kids so anything I heard was, 'I'm scared. I'm scared,'" said Stacy Wilkins, 39.

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