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Winds cause substantial damage

February 12, 2009

Winds cut power across Tri-State

TRI-STATE -- Emergency crews in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and Southcentral Pennsylvania were busy Thursday responding to damage and downed power lines caused by high winds.

By 4 p.m., Berkeley County Central Dispatch had received nearly 250 calls for wind-related concerns such as trees on buildings and power lines, according to Stephen S. Allen, director of Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Allen said there were at least two reports of substantial roof damage in Martinsburg, W.Va. - at the Union Rescue Mission properties along West King Street and at a radiator repair business off Grazier Street.

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High winds weakened the sign pole at Texas Steakhouse & Saloon, 927 Foxcroft Ave., causing police to block the south entrance of the Martinsburg Mall and other businesses in the commercial strip along Interstate 81 to protect shoppers and motorists in case the towering structure fell, police said.

A manager at Taco Bell at 1020 Foxcroft Ave. confirmed Thursday that the restaurant's "glass" sign was shattered by the wind, but the pole it was mounted on had withstood the windy conditions.

Emergency crews did not reopen the southern section of Foxcroft Avenue until just before 4 p.m., police said.

Rescue Mission personnel administrator Danny Custer said the gabled roof of Rescue Mission's thrift store in the 600 block of West King Street was torn off about 3:15 a.m. Thursday.

It came to rest in front of the mission's shelter, but not before leaving a gaping hole in the roof where a dormer on the second floor was destroyed. The roof over the steps of the front porch and a tree on the grounds also appeared to receive substantial damage.

While repairs and cleanup were under way Thursday afternoon, Custer said the shelter was still habitable for the men who stay there and the property was insured.

Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation executive director R. Stephen "Steve" Catlett said the worst damage in the county's park system appeared to be at Ambrose Park near the Martinsburg Mall where three or four sheets of metal roofing were blown off a pavillion.

Back Creek Valley Elementary School in Berkeley County, W.Va., closed at 10:30 a.m. due to a power outage, school officials announced. North Martinsburg Middle School canceled Thursday afternoon and evening activities because of wind damage at the school.

Pennsylvania



At one point during the morning, more than 8,000 customers were without electricity in Franklin County, said Susan Dutko, the acting Franklin County Director of Emergency Services. Wind gusts recorded at the courthouse reached 47 mph, but she said winds were likely higher in open country outside of town.

One of those places was a stretch of U.S. 11 north of Chambersburg where a number of large branches and limbs were torn from trees along the road near the Norland Cemetery, damaging utility poles and pulling down wires. Traffic was detoured off U.S. 11 while Allegheny Power crews repaired the damage.

Across the street from the courthouse in Chambersburg, the facade came off one side of an F&M Trust Co. building. There were many reports of shingles and siding being blown off houses, Dutko said Thursday afternoon, with more serious damage to an unoccupied house in the Mercersburg, Pa., area and part of a roof coming off a home in Orrstown, Pa.

Along with the closure of U.S. 11 for several hours, Dutko said Interstate 81 was blocked for a short time in the morning by an overturned truck, but she did not know if it was wind-related.

"This has been our biggest outage ever ... 328,000 and counting have either been out or are out right now," Allegheny Power spokesman Todd Meyers said at 5:30 p.m. Most would be restored within 24 to 46 hours, but with 5,500 separate outages some customers could be without power until Sunday, he said.

Franklin and Fulton counties got through the day in relatively good shape, Meyers said. By late afternoon, 576 Franklin County customers still had no electricity, while the number in Fulton County was 25.

The New Franklin, Lurgan and Falling Spring elementary schools in the Chambersburg Area School District lost power, but students remained in school, Director of Information Services Sylvia Rockwood said.

"We had some outages, but our emergency generators took care of it and food service provided the students with bag lunches," Rockwood said. Power had still not been restored at New Franklin by the end of the day, but Falling Spring was back on line at 2 p.m., while Lurgan had partial power restored, she said.

Staff writers Matthew Umstead, Don Aines and Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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