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Wise assesses storm damage in Panhandle

September 20, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

DARKESVILLE, W.VA. - West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise on Sunday toured the town of Darkesville to see the destruction caused by a suspected tornado Friday night and said it was some of the worst damage he has seen so far in the state as a result of tropical depression Ivan.

After surveying the damage, Wise said he would consult with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to determine if the damage in Darkesville warrants a federal disaster declaration for the area.

Wise said he traveled earlier in the day to Wheeling, W.Va., and Weirton, W.Va., which experienced bad flooding.

"The two panhandles are the ones that really (bore) the brunt," Wise said.

Although National Weather Service officials have not been able to confirm it, local officials believe a tornado hit Darkesville, a small unincorporated area in Berkeley County, W.Va.

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It had been two days since the suspected tornado ripped through the town, but the village along U.S. 11 continued to be congested with traffic Sunday afternoon as people came to the area to see the damage and remove debris.

Wise and an entourage of local and federal emergency officials walked along U.S. 11, stopping periodically to talk to families and individuals affected by the destruction.

Arthur and Brenda Sisk were sitting outside near their home when Wise approached them.

The couple said they were in their home when the suspected tornado hit, and they tried to get to a mobile home to see a relative when it struck.

Brenda Sisk said her husband was thrown under the mobile home and she was thrown into a low spot in the ground.

"The water was running over both of us like it was a river," said Brenda Sisk. One of Brenda Sisk's hands was bandaged.

She said her ring finger was almost cut off and she had 57 stitches on her head, eye and leg.

Arthur Sisk went to Winchester (Va.) Medical Center for treatment, although he later declined help.

Even though he needs stitches on a thumb, Sisk said he does not have insurance and did not want any medical bills.

"I will just tough it out," he said.

Arthur Sisk told Wise there would be a lot of mental stress as a result of the destruction.

Wise said the state has counselors it can send to help people cope with the ordeal. The governor said it is important that people take advantage of the service.

"It's real important that we talk about it and get that out," Wise said.

Wise stopped at a house and talked to a woman who said she was alone when the high winds hit.

Wise again emphasized that the state is ready to help.

"I just want everyone to know they are not alone," Wise said.

Wise and emergency officials walked into the home of the Rev. Paul Luther Flick.

The floors of Flick's home were littered with pieces of lumber, newspaper and glass.

Flick's daughter, Judy Flick Shultz, took Wise to a back room where her father always sits and watches television.

Fortunately, Flick was not in the room when the tornado hit, and was instead heading up the hallway to the bedroom, Judy Flick said.

The 81-year-old Flick was knocked to the floor when winds hit, and he crawled into the bedroom, his daughter said.

On Sunday, carpeting and other parts of the room where Flick watched TV were still intact.

The roof, however, was gone.

"It's just unbelievable. He was just at the right place. The Lord was with him," Shultz said.

Farther up the street, William Price and some of his friends gathered around him outside of his business, Price's Auto Upholstery.

The building sat in a twisted, contorted shape.

"That's my life right there," said Price, explaining the business was a loss, inside and out.

Price said the next step for him was waiting until today to file an insurance claim.

Price said he hopes someone is going to help town residents remove debris.

"Hauling this stuff out is going to be expensive," he said.

Wise said there are eight counties in West Virginia that state officials want to have designated as federal disaster areas. Berkeley County was not among the eight, but additional counties can be added to the list once the process has been started, Wise said. Having the designation frees up federal funds to help deal with the impact of the storm.

About 100 homes were damaged by the high winds, said Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services. That would include damage ranging from a broken window to the heavy destruction in Darkesville, Allen said.

Homes damaged by high winds stretched from Darkesville to areas off Arden Nollville Road, Allen said.

No damage estimates have been made, Allen said.

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