Thursday, March 24, 2011

Major Storm Wreaks Havoc in Westmoreland

A funnel cloud that may have been a tornado tore through Westmoreland County yesterday, damaging homes and businesses in its path. No major injuries or deaths have been reported.

The storm hit hardest in Hempfield Township, where the Hempfield Area School District announced an emergency closure after the high school sustained heavy damage to its stadium and auditorium. Many homes in the Greensburg-area community had their roofs ripped off by the high-speed wind, and several were totally destroyed.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Balya says about 30 homes total were damaged, 20 being in Hempfield and 10 in Sewickley Township.

The storm also pelted large hailstones and heavy rain throughout the region.

Westmoreland County Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Dan Stevens says the storm caused millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses. Stevens says it's amazing nobody was killed or severely injured.

"24 years working for Westmoreland County Emergency Services, and this is the worst storm I've ever seen here in Westmoreland County,” says Stevens. “This is definitely what I’ve coined the ‘March Miracle’ with regard to this storm: nobody injured, nobody killed, and we can replace all the stuff that was damaged and broken.”

Red Cross of Westmoreland County Executive Director Donna Pacella says her team of about 50 responders was able to give food and shelter to several people last night.

“We anticipate more today, simply because we’re going out into the neighborhoods today to do noble feedings with our emergency response vehicles around lunchtime today,” says Pacella. “We also have a shelter available for people at Hempfield Municipal Building in Hempfield Township.”

The National Weather Service is investigating the damage and will decide today if the storm was a tornado.

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