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Unusual twister slams into small PA town

BY SUSAN KIM | HONEY BROOK, PA | November 28, 1999

HONEY BROOK, PA (Nov. 28, 1999) -- An unusual tornado struck a small

town in the Pennsylvania Dutch country Friday evening, destroying

four homes and significantly damaging 20 others.

The tornado -- not only unseasonable in November but unusual for this

area in eastern Pennsylvania -- also leveled a barn and caused an

estimated $2 million worth of damage to the Zook Molasses and Good

Food, Inc. factory, said Marko Borne, public information officer for

the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Office.

Honey Brook, a town of just 1,100 people, is located about 30 miles

east of Lancaster.

Borne said four people were injured, and a total of 80 structures

were affected. Of the 20 homes reporting significant damage, most

reported less than $5,000 in damages.

Honey Brook residents -- 40 of whom spent Friday night in an American

Red Cross shelter set up in the Honey Brook Elementary School --

spent the weekend in a state of disbelief and busy cleanup.

Some of those 40 people were evacuated because of gas leaks but

others left the shelter and went home to complete devastation. One

family was out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday and returned to

find their home nearly leveled.

"People felt safe in the school -- it's cinder block and brick," said

Ron Lykens, a Honey Brook resident.

"I can stand in my backyard and look right now and look right through

the house next door," he added. "There are clothes up in the trees.

Their car is still just sitting there. It's just unreal."

The Salvation Army helped provide meals and other emergency services

at the school. The shelter has since been able to close as displaced

families found housing with relatives, friends or in hotels.

Although the National Weather Service classified the tornado as

"weak," the home it did directly hit were leveled. "Damage is pretty

extensive where it did hit," said Titus Kurtz, a member of Rockville

Mennonite Church.

The twister was all the more shocking because, less than 20 miles

away, other residents were experiencing rains with no wind at all.

"We were shocked when we found out it hit Honey Brook," said the Rev.

Joseph Wenrick, who used to live in Honey Brook. Bands of rain had

been moving across eastern Pennsylvania all day on Friday.

Just six miles away, people at the Churchtown United Methodist Church

in Narvon, Pa., were surprised to hear about the damages. "We

mentioned them in our prayer time (Sunday morning)," said the Rev.

Earl Trauger.

Although Wenrick expressed concern about tornado survivors having

adequate insurance, Borne said he believed most damage will be

covered. "This is considered wind damage on most insurance policies,

which is well covered, unlike flood damage in a lot of cases," said


The area is used to high winds from fall storms, but not to tornadoes.

Although displaced families have found temporary housing, they will

face a long-term recovery, even if they are adequately insured. This

weekend, the streets of Honey Brook were active with neighbors

helping neighbors in need.

"People have been helping people clean up," said the Rev. Dick Grove,

pastor at the Living God Lutheran Church. "And most people are

covered in terms of temporary housing."

"But you can see one house that's nearly all gone, and another that's

three-quarters gone, and another that's half gone," he said.

Volunteer debris cleanup over the weekend lifted people's spirits and

let those with destroyed homes concentrate on immediate needs. The

tornado toppled many trees and left yards and the streets littered

with debris and even heavy appliances.

Some 2,000 people were still without power Saturday but by Sunday

much had been restored.

Plus, "a lot of debris has actually been taken care of," said Borne.

But residents will face a long-term recovery. "We are going to offer

some carpentry help for our neighbors," said the Rev. Amos Stoltzfus,

pastor at the Rockville Mennonite Church. "I think it's coming down

to individuals helping individuals at this point."

Many churches in town collected special offerings at Sunday morning

services to help tornado survivors.

"This has knit people together quickly," said the Rev. Scott Widmer,

pastor at the Honey Brook United Methodist Church. "And we are

responding the best way we know how."

But "in three weeks and beyond and different set of needs will

emerge," said Grove. "During the process of rebuilding, people are

going to need many things, sometimes simple but important things like

a babysitter or a pet sitter, and those are the kinds of things the

church family can provide," he said, adding that rebuilding could

take as long as nine months.

Borne added that the tornado -- unusual in late November -- was

potentially caused by the unusually warm fall in that area this year.

In an unfortunate twist, the rainy weather has come too late for many

Pennsylvania farmers, and other farmers in the rain-starved eastern

U.S., who are still suffering from this summer's drought. Many are

facing a severe hay shortage and mounting equipment bills. An

ecumenical Family Farm Drought Response Coalition is responding to

those needs.

The coalition has been coordinating hay lifts, distributing donated

hay for free or for a reduced cost to those with critical needs. In

addition to Pennsylvania, requests for hay are coming from The

coalition reported that requests for hay are coming from Kentucky,

Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.

Posted Nov. 28, 1999

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