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Tornadoes rip through area

September 18, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE -A storm packing high winds, heavy rain, thunder and lightning spawned several tornadoes in the Tri-State area Friday evening, according to emergency officials and a number of residents who snapped pictures of funnel clouds touching down.

The National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., confirmed a tornado moving north through Frederick County, Md., around 6 p.m.; one in Greencastle, Pa., at about 7:15 p.m.; and another near Berkeley Springs, W.Va., after 8 p.m.

Reports of funnel clouds moving east to west continued to come in through the evening as rescuers raced from call to call, surveying damage to buildings, as well as downed trees and wires.

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Assistant Boonsboro Fire Chief Vernon Brown had several units at a home at 8436 Barnes Road off Roxbury Road, where a roof was blown off shortly after 7 p.m.

"The family wasn't home when it happened, but they are here now trying to get their stuff out," Brown said as he stood in the middle of the leaf-strewn road in front of the house around 8 p.m. "There are three poles and a lot of live wires down all around here."

Brown said it was too dark to tell where the roof landed. He could only be sure that it no longer was on the house.

Not far away, more of Boonsboro's fire personnel were at 19237 Bettys Ave., where a tree crashed into a roof, causing a partial building collapse, Brown said. He didn't think there were any injuries there either, just a lot of damage.

A storm took down four buildings in the area of Pioneer Drive southwest of Chambersburg, Pa., but there was no indication that a tornado was to blame, according to the Franklin County Department of Emergency Services.

Rouzerville and Blue Ridge Summit in Franklin County experienced flooding and trees falling, the department said in a news release.

It is believed that a tornado touched down along U.S. 11 in Darkesville, W.Va. A church, a house and other buildings in the town were damaged, said Kenny Lemaster, chief deputy of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

The storm also snapped power lines, downed trees and pushed over utility poles. Snapped power lines hung like spaghetti from the poles. Lemaster said he was not sure if anyone was injured.

People in the area were in their homes when they heard a roaring sound.

"I could hardly get my door open because the wind was so strong," Leon Brown said.

Brown left his mobile home believing it would be unsafe to stay inside.

It is believed a tornado or a strong gust of wind crossed nearby Interstate 81, Lemaster said.

It is believed that strong winds picked up three tractor-trailers that were southbound on the interstate, Sheriff's Cpl. W.E. Henderson said. It is believed the winds picked them up and blew them over.

One tractor-trailer was blown on top of a car. A woman driving the car crawled out of her vehicle and was taken to Winchester (Va.) Medical Center, Henderson said. One of the truck drivers was hospitalized with an elbow injury. Details about other possible injuries were not available, Henderson said.

It is believed at the same time a pickup truck traveling north in the same area was picked up by a gust of wind and blown into the median, Deputy C.K. Gibbons said. Two people had to be cut out of the wreckage of the truck and taken to City Hospital, Gibbons said. A northbound car also was blown to the side of the interstate.

The interstate accidents occurred about one mile north of the Inwood, W.Va., exit.

Luis Rosa, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the severe weather was triggered by a line of thunderstorms stretching from the Carolinas north through the Tri-State area.

Public information advisories from the National Weather Service Web site also reported a number of severe thunderstorms moving through the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland.

At 10:30 p.m., weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site said that 1 1/2 inches of rain had fallen on Hagerstown throughout the day.

"We have about 330 customers without power in southern Washington County, 350 or so in Franklin County, Pa., and another 60 in South Mountain, Pa.," Allegheny Power spokesman Guy Fletcher said.

But hardest hit was the Eastern Panhandle, Fletcher said, where 900 customers were in the dark including 750 in the Inwood area.

"Crews are out, and hopefully we will have many customers restored by midnight," Fletcher said around 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Systemwide, approximately 60,000 Allegheny Power customers were blacked out by the storm in the utility's five-state service area, Fletcher said.

"I thought it was a tornado because I could hear that sound," said Sylvia Bealer, who lives on Kaetzel Road in Gapland in southern Washington County. "I took pictures of it as it touched down on the Washington County side of South Mountain."

Bealer said she still was shaking later when she recounted the experience, which occurred around 6:30 p.m. Friday.

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