Tornadoes strike Mid-Atlantic towns

BY PJ HELLER | EASTERN U.S. | June 11, 1998


EASTERN U.S. (June 11, 1998) -- Earlier this month, tornadoes and violent weather ripped a swath of

destruction across the

East, leaving more than a dozen people dead, hundreds injured, and

destroying or damaging scores of homes and

businesses.

Officials in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont,

Connecticut and New Jersey were assessing the damages Thursday from more

than a dozen twisters reported by the National Weather Service since Sunday

night. Violent weather also occurred in West Virginia, Virginia and North

Carolina, causing scattered damage and power outages.

Faith-based disaster response organizations were also meeting with

survivors and community leaders to determine how they could assist in the

relief and long-term recovery efforts.

The latest storms on June 2, came on the heels of powerful storms which

slammed through the area three days earlier. The storm was part of the

same system which swept across the Midwest May 30, destroying the entire

South Dakota town of Spencer.

Research meteorologist and tornado expert Dr. Harold Brooks with the

National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., called the outbreak of

violent weather in the East "unusual but not completely unbelievable."

"The last couple of days have been unusual," he said. "I don't

know if they've ever had a period where they've had two outbreaks this

close together."

In Frostburg, Md., three tornadoes touched down in the area within a few

hours June 2, damaging nearly 100 homes, rupturing gas lines and

toppling trees. However, only minor injuries were reported.

One of the hardest hit areas June 2 was Lake Carey, a small lakeside resort

community about 15 miles from Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Emergency management officials said the community of about 1,200 people

suffered "total

devastation." Two people were reported killed and nine others injured.

Many Lake Carey residents lost telephone and power service and telephone

service has been elusive since the storm. Emergency management officials

said 39 houses and mobile homes were destroyed and at least 45 others

suffered major damage.

Much of the damage in Lake Carey was caused by falling trees. In the

days following the tornado, logging companies hauled more than 4,000 tons

of wood out of the devastated area.

In Pittsburgh police reported that two twisters raked across the city,

damaging more than 900 buildings, primarily in the Mount Washington area.

An ecumenical thanksgiving service was held there June 7.

On both Sunday and Tuesday nights, tornadoes touched down in and near

Salisbury in southwestern Pennsylvania killing a teenage girl and injuring

at least 15 others. More than 70 buildings were damaged in the town of 750

-- leaving a path of destruction for nearly 15 miles to the tiny village of

Pocahontas, about nine miles east of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.

At least 11 tornadoes have been confirmed in Pennsylvania since the weekend.

On June 8, President Bill Clinton declared Pa. counties of Somerset,

Alleghany, Berks and Wyoming as federal disaster areas, making residents

and local governments eligible for federal aid to rebuild property.

The tornadoes in Pennsylvania struck in the mountains in the southwestern

part of the state and the more gently rolling area near Philadelphia.

Brooks, of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, said researchers have

"little clear understanding of what effect, if any, small scale topography"

has on storms.

In upstate New York, tornadoes touched down Sunday night in Mechanicville,

Stillwater near Albany and in the surrounding areas in Saratoga and Broome

counties. More than 100 homes were damaged or destroyed. One person died in

Stillwater after suffering a heart attack; another was killed in Binghamton

when he was crushed by a tree limb. Sixty-eight people were injured in

Stillwater and at least another 12 injured in Binghamton.

Gov. George Pataki declared four of the tornado-ravaged counties disaster

areas. The Red Cross placed more than 1,000 people in shelters.

Joann Hale, Regional Disaster Response Facilitator for Church World

Service, said she plans to meet Saturday with clergy in the region to

discuss relief efforts. She said she will be meeting with the Broome County

Council of Churches and will tour Mechanicville and Stillwater. Hampering

her efforts was the fact that phone and power lines remained out several

days after the storm.

Brooks said he saw no reason to believe that the rash of storms would

become any more frequent in the future.

"I don't think there's any evidence at this point for changes in the

[weather] patterns," he said. "It's been a long time since we've had a big

year [for storms] in the East for tornadoes. Again, it isn't

unprecedented."

An estimated 123 people have died in tornadoes in 1998, the largest number

since 1974, the deadliest year when 330 people died, according to Brooks.

The most tornadoes in a year was in 1992, when 1,297 were reported, Brooks

said. He said he expected about 1,100 tornadoes to be reported this year.

Updated June 11, 1998


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