Cleanup continues after Thursday’s heavy wind storm

BROOKVILLE — The huge band of thunderstorms that moved through Jefferson County caused a large number of trees to be knocked down, taking power and other utility lines with it Thursday and Friday.

As of Friday evening, there were still 1,300 residents without power in Jefferson County, said Chris Clark, deputy director of Jefferson County Emergency Services.

Clark said that despite the warnings, once again there were no tornado touchdowns that he is aware of.

"It was straight-line wind damage that gusted to over 60 mph that caused significant damage throughout the entire county," Clark said, adding that the rumors of tornado activity were reported in Brookville, McCalmont Township, Sigel and Big Run.

He said in Big Run, there were numerous trees that completely blocked Main Street (Route 119).

"However, there were no injuries reported from any portion of the county, which is quite fortunate for us," Clarke said.

Robert Hartman, Big Run Emergency Management coordinator, said he wasn't in Big Run when the storm first hit. He was in Pittsburgh and had a very scary ride back up through the Smicksburg area.

"I was talking to Todd Peace (Big Run assistant fire chief) while I was still in Pittsburgh, and I decided it was going to get bad, so I headed on up," he said. "They were pretty well mobilized by the time I got up there."

Hartman said that while driving in Indiana County between Kittanning and Smicksburg, the conditions were pretty rough, which gave him the idea of what they were dealing with in Big Run.

"Not only was Main Street blocked with trees and wires, the Big Run Prescottville Road was also completely blocked, and Pennsylvania Avenue was nailed pretty good too," Hartman said, adding that it was amazing that no one was injured during the storms.

"I almost lost my car three times while traveling between Smicksburg and Rural Valley," Hartman said.

He said as of Friday night there were still people in Big Run and Gaskill Township that were without power.

Most everyone else got their power back around 2 p.m. Friday, Hartman said, adding that he was grateful for all the help from in the community and outside of it with the cleanup of the fallen trees.

IUP Culinary, IUP Punxsy campus, Salvation Army and Red Cross helped serve food to people who were at the Big Run War Memorial, which is used as a shelter in the time of an emergency, Hartman said.

"Special thanks to the many residents of Big Run, people from outside the community and other fire departments that helped here in addition to cleaning up each of their own communities," he said.

Charlie Hoeh, Punxsutawney Emergency Management coordinator, said it was amazing how the canopy over the bandstand in Barclay Square was able to be put back up after being flattened by the wind on Thursday.

"I figured the framework would've been bent up on it," Hoeh said, adding that the Groundhog Festival Committee, which owns the canopy, will have to have it examined by an engineer to be sure it's structurally sound.
Roger Steele, chairman of the Groundhog Festival Committee, said he thought the canopy would be toast.

"I thought for sure that was the end of the canopy over the bandstand," Steele said.

He thanked the many volunteers, especially Smith Hauling, which brought a truck with a crane into Barclay Square Friday afternoon to reset the canopy.

"The Lions Club, REACT and people from Church in the Park came out to assist with putting it back up," Steele said, adding that thanks to their help, they were able to put it back up.

"We lost the lights on the bandstand, but everything else came through," he said.

Steele said the canopy did exactly what it was designed to do, which is fold up during a high wind storm.

"The hold-downs in the front and rear of the bandstand are designed so if the wind becomes too strong, they'll give it up and lay it back down," Steele said, adding that it is covered by insurance, and there appeared to be no structural damage, but it would have to be analyzed by an engineer.

Hoeh said in Punxsy the borough received 1-1/2 inches of rain Thursday and Friday, another inch for a total of nearly 2 inches in two days.
He said he wasn't surprised that there wasn't any flooding in Punxsutawney from the heavy rain storms that moved through the area.

"As dry as it has been, a lot of the water soaked into the ground so fast because of the extreme dry conditions," he said. "We're still way behind on rainfall; I'm guessing were are down over 5 inches of in Punxsy."

Hoeh said there wasn't as much tree damage in Punxsy as one might think.
"There's still some smaller trees that are down in people's yards that haven't been cleaned up as of yet," Hoeh said, adding that some residents are waiting for the weather to stabilize before they begin to clear it.

"At the peak of the storm, I was on my back porch watching it come in on the radar," he said.

"I could just see the limbs flying out of the trees; I'm guessing the wind gusted to over 60 mph," Hoeh said.

He said there was a lot of damage to the north of Punxsy in Big Run, Henderson Township and McCalmont Township, which were also hit hard earlier this month during Groundhog Festival week.

Hoeh said what was unusual was having two tornado warnings in one day in the county.

The first one was for the northern portions, while the second one was for the southern portions including Punxsutawney, he said.

"I don't think a lot of people put it together that there were two separate tornado warnings for the county," Hoeh said, adding that many volunteer firefighters went to their halls when they heard the storm was coming and everything that was going on up north on stand by in case the same things happened in Punxsy.

"In the future we are working on plans to implement that whenever a tornado warning is issued for our area, all fire halls will be manned in Punxsy," Hoeh said.

"We came out of this storm pretty well; we were lucky, but we must always be prepared, as a storm could sneak up on us and catch us off guard," Hoeh said.