New Castle News

July 11, 2013

Photos, Video, Story: A wild afternoon

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A tornado touched down Wednesday in Lawrence County.

And while some structures suffered, there were no initial reports of injuries.

Two barns and a machinery shed were demolished, windows were “blown out” of a mobile home and trees were uprooted in the North Beaver Township/New Beaver Borough area by the high winds.

That happened about 4:15 p.m. and was followed by heavy rain that caused flooding and landslides as well as downed trees and wires.

Tim Caughey of McBride Road in North Beaver Township said the wind came through between 4 and 4:15 p.m.

“I looked out the window and saw the clouds, dark and churning, and then the rain,” he said. “I saw what I think was a funnel cloud. My momma didn’t raise any fools so I headed for the basement. I’ve seen enough television of what tornadoes can do to stand around and take pictures.”

Caughey said he was told that Walt Werner’s barn on Route 168 and a barn on McBride Road — formerly owned by his father-in-law, Phillip Zohvic and now owned by Angelo Medure — had been obliterated.

When he emerged from his basement, Caughey said, he saw debris and heavy cloud cover headed away.

“I was fortunate,” he said.

Pat McCready of Wampum-Mount Air Road said he understands a tornado passed through, but he had not seen the funnel cloud.

“This is crazy weather,” he noted.

David McBride, a Union Township police officer, was sent to help North Beaver’s Volunteer Fire Department about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. He said most of the damage was concentrated between Halltown and Mallory roads along Route 168 in North Beaver Township.

“I haven’t heard that anyone was hurt,” he added.

McBride confirmed the trailer damage, but said he does not know who lives there.

Brian Melcer, Lawrence County’s public safety director, said the 911 center was “inundated” with calls and emergency responders had to prioritize.

Between 4 and 6:30 p.m., Melcer said, 410 calls were received. Generally, this is as many as are received in three days, he pointed out.

Most of the callers reported downed trees and wires or power outages, according to Melcer. He said people should not call 911 for those types of problems.

“Don’t call 911 unless it is an emergency,” he stressed.

Most damage — road flooding, debris on roads and downed trees and wires — was in the central part of the county, he said.

The most power outages were reported in Shenango Township, he said, where about 1,200 customers were without electricity.

In other municipalities, there were fewer than 100 outages he said, and cited 85 in New Castle, 76 in Slippery Rock Township, 75 in Pulaski and 30 in New Beaver.

Melcer also noted a primary power line was down in the area of the tornado.

A house collapsed in Taylor Township, Melcer said, but the residents got out. He also noted some callers reported they were trapped in vehicles.

But as of 6:30 p.m., he said, there were “no injuries that we know of.”

At that time, Melcer said, no disaster had been declared in the county. He said he had spoken with Dan Vogler, Lawrence County commissioner chairman, but “it’s too early to assess.”

So far, “we’ve been able to handle things with the personnel and resources we have. Ultimately, it will be up to the commissioners to decide,” he said, adding he has been keeping them in the loop.

New Castle Fire Chief Tom Maciarello said most of the flooding in the city was on the East Side.

There were lots of reports of flooded basements, he said, and numerous calls of people stuck in their cars. He said the drains couldn’t handle the flow from the heavy rain.

Some streets were closed to traffic, including Jefferson Street, which had flooding near the railroad crossing, Maciarello said. Police also had a portion of Mill Street closed at the intersection with Grove Street.

Maciarello noted several city streets were torn up because of the flooding.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed two roads Wednesday because of flooding. They were a portion of Industrial Street in Taylor Township and Moravia Street between Reynolds Street and Gardner Avenue in New Castle.

During the course of Wednesday’s tornado warning, customers at Giant Eagle in Neshannock Township were taken into the store’s coolers as a precaution.

The remained there for about 20 minutes.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh said a certified weather spotter had reported twisters in the southern portion of the county.

“But we don’t have confirmation until tomorrow,” a spokesman said.

At that time, he explained, a storm survey will be conducted to determine the tracking and intensity of the storm and wind speed.

(News reporters John Manna and Carol Colaizzi contributed to this story.)