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Sunday storm topples trees, electrical lines

May 28, 2012

This giant tree toppled over on West Mahoning Street during a huge thunderstorm with 60 mph winds that caused damage to not only trees but power, cable television and phone lines Sunday afternoon. The road wasn't reopened to traffic until 1 a.m. Monday. (Photo by Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It wasn't a tornado, but it was as close as you could get when a storm with wind gusts clocking in at over 60 mph blew through Jefferson County around 4:30 p.m. Sunday, ripping trees right out of the ground and taking power, cable television and phone lines down with it.

"This storm was spread throughout Jefferson County, and the wind was definitely up to 60 mph," said Charlie Hoeh, Punxsutawney Emergency Management coordinator.

Hoeh said the storm presented a very dangerous situation, especially along West Mahoning Street, due to all of the power lines that were knocked down because of the storm.

The electricity was out from Church Street all the way to the Punxy Plaza, according to Hoeh.

"There were wires down throughout that stretch of West Mahoning Street," he said. "When that tree went down, it must have pulled the cables pretty hard, because it snapped the wires between the utility poles like it was nothing,"

He said he was surprised that there was little damage to actual structures due to the storm.

"There wasn't a lot of physical damage to roofs; (the storm) damaged our REACT trailer during the safety break on Route 119 near the Indiana County line, when it destroyed the canopy, and it ripped it right out of the ground," Hoeh said, adding that there wasn't a straight piece of pipe anywhere.

Hoeh said the storm lifted the REACT trailer about two to three inches off the ground.

Most everyone had their power restored by 3 p.m. Monday, he said.
“Surprisingly, there were no injuries to report in Jefferson County that I'm aware of," Hoeh said.

He said the storm formed very fast, and the National Weather Service put warnings out early in the afternoon.

"It ripped through Jefferson County real quick; it was real severe stuff that came through here," he said. "It was cloud to ground lightning just about everywhere; surprisingly, there weren't more structures struck by lightning."

Hoeh said his rain gauge indicated that about half-an-inch of rain that came down in about an hour.

Scott Depp, Punxsutawney Fire Department assistant chief, said there were about 14 downed trees that were reported to the fire department Sunday.

Central Fire Department and Elk Run Volunteer Fire Company handled most of the calls for trees and wires down.

"Lindsey Fire Company handled the big tree that was blocking West Mahoning Street that knocked out the power to this area," Depp said, adding that Route 36 was closed due to debris and removal of the tree until about 1 a.m. Monday.

"When the tree fell because of the storm, it occurred at a time when there was very little traffic to deal with," he said.

Depp said the next worse area was on Graffius Avenue at the intersection with Carter Avenue, where a Weeping Willow tree was struck by lightning, and the majority of it landed on the roadway.

Penelec and PennDOT cleared the state roadways, and Davey Tree Service cut the big tree up on West Mahoning.

"Penelec started from the main arteries and worked its way to the smaller streets in the area," Depp said, adding that it was great there was no major property damage and no injuries to report in the borough.

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