ShareThis Page
Westmoreland

Tornado touches down in Uniontown; officials evaluating damage

| Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, 12:09 p.m.
Worker Nico Johnson removes pieces of debris from a neighborhood off of North Gallatin Avenue in Uniontown on Feb. 16, the day after an F1 category tornado touched down, causing a large swath of property damage.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Worker Nico Johnson removes pieces of debris from a neighborhood off of North Gallatin Avenue in Uniontown on Feb. 16, the day after an F1 category tornado touched down, causing a large swath of property damage.
Raymond Thomas carries pieces of debris from a yard off of North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. The National Weather Service confirmed that an F1 category tornado touched down causing a large swath of property damage.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Raymond Thomas carries pieces of debris from a yard off of North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. The National Weather Service confirmed that an F1 category tornado touched down causing a large swath of property damage.
A parked pick-up truck that was flattened by a falling tree after an F1 tornado touched down during a severe storm on Thursday night in Uniontown is seen Friday Feb. 16, 2018.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A parked pick-up truck that was flattened by a falling tree after an F1 tornado touched down during a severe storm on Thursday night in Uniontown is seen Friday Feb. 16, 2018.
Uniontown resident Joe Czuchan looks out his backyard at a tree that collapsed onto his deck Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. Debris and damage was visible in several neighborhood streets from a tornado that touched down Thursday night.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Uniontown resident Joe Czuchan looks out his backyard at a tree that collapsed onto his deck Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. Debris and damage was visible in several neighborhood streets from a tornado that touched down Thursday night.
PennDOT employee Nick Hall moves a road barrier on flooded Pittsburgh Street in Uniontown on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
PennDOT employee Nick Hall moves a road barrier on flooded Pittsburgh Street in Uniontown on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018.
Wind ripped the roof off a Uniontown home late Thursday night. The National Weather Service confirmed that an F1 category tornado touched down causing a large swath of property damage.
WPXI
Wind ripped the roof off a Uniontown home late Thursday night. The National Weather Service confirmed that an F1 category tornado touched down causing a large swath of property damage.
A brick wall of a building is seen collapsed Friday morning Feb. 16, 2018 after several neighborhood areas in Uniontown suffered damage from a tornado that touched down Thursday night in Fayette County.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A brick wall of a building is seen collapsed Friday morning Feb. 16, 2018 after several neighborhood areas in Uniontown suffered damage from a tornado that touched down Thursday night in Fayette County.
A pedestrian walks by a downed utility pole along Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado ripped down utility poles and caused extensive damage during a storm Thursday night.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A pedestrian walks by a downed utility pole along Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado ripped down utility poles and caused extensive damage during a storm Thursday night.
A board is impaled through the roof of a home on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado with high wind speeds caused extensive damage in several neighborhoods on Thursday night.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A board is impaled through the roof of a home on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado with high wind speeds caused extensive damage in several neighborhoods on Thursday night.
Utility crews work on North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown after a tornado touched down on Thursday night causing damage across several neighborhood areas.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Utility crews work on North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown after a tornado touched down on Thursday night causing damage across several neighborhood areas.
A small home is seen damaged Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown from the touchdown of a tornado on Thursday evening.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A small home is seen damaged Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown from the touchdown of a tornado on Thursday evening.
Utility company employees work at the scene of extensive damage along North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado touched down Thursday night, causing extensive damage to several neighborhoods and businesses.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Utility company employees work at the scene of extensive damage along North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado touched down Thursday night, causing extensive damage to several neighborhoods and businesses.
Siding and other pieces of housing debris are laid on a sidewalk after utility company crews had to remove them from utility wires Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado caused extensive damage to several neighborhoods.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Siding and other pieces of housing debris are laid on a sidewalk after utility company crews had to remove them from utility wires Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado caused extensive damage to several neighborhoods.
A resident walks away from damaged trees and housing debris strewn across North Gallatin Avenue in Uniontown following a tornado in February.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A resident walks away from damaged trees and housing debris strewn across North Gallatin Avenue in Uniontown following a tornado in February.
Workers clean up debris from a warehouse rooftop on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown after a tornado damaged several neighborhoods and businesses on Thursday evening.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Workers clean up debris from a warehouse rooftop on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown after a tornado damaged several neighborhoods and businesses on Thursday evening.
The tops of trees are ripped near North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado touched down on Thursday night causing large swaths of property damage.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The tops of trees are ripped near North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado touched down on Thursday night causing large swaths of property damage.
The top of a high-rise building is seen with extensive damage on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown after a tornado touched down on Thursday night.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The top of a high-rise building is seen with extensive damage on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown after a tornado touched down on Thursday night.
Housing debris is scattered through the yards of home near North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado touched down on Thursday night causing large swaths of property damage.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Housing debris is scattered through the yards of home near North Gallatin Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Uniontown. A tornado touched down on Thursday night causing large swaths of property damage.
Heavy rains led to flooding in Ligonier Borough overnight, including this neighborhood on Indian Street.
Stephen Huba | Tribune-Review
Heavy rains led to flooding in Ligonier Borough overnight, including this neighborhood on Indian Street.

A rare February tornado with wind gusts up to 105 mph tore a path of destruction through part of Uniontown Thursday night, ripping roofs from homes and businesses, toppling trees and leaving debris strewn in the streets.

Based on the tornado's path of damage and the circular path of the debris field, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist Fred McMullen determined it was an F1 tornado and not straight-line winds, said Lee Hendricks, a weather service meteorologist.

"It looked bad last night. But then, when the sun came up this morning, it was like 'wow,'" said Uniontown Fire Chief Buck Griffith.

It was the first time since 1950 that a tornado struck in the Pittsburgh region in February, and it is unusual that the tornado struck in an urban area, Hendricks said.

"Where else on Earth would it happen but here?" Griffith said.

Residents and business owners in the North Gallatin Avenue area and along many side streets cleaned up their properties Friday and covered their roofs with tarps to keep the elements out. Several structures, including Gallatin Plumbing Supply Co., were destroyed, according to Mayor Ed Fike.

"I was out there all night, and it was almost like a tunnel when it came down over Connellsville Street," he said. "Everything in its path, it either tore up or uprooted."

There was no saving Mark Thomas' car. He had recently taken his BMW 745 LI out of storage to finish a paint job and parked it in his Lenox Street backyard. On Thursday night, a large tree snapped and fell on the car he's had for 10 years.

"I heard an airplane coming through my roof," he said of the tornado's sound. "The whole house shook. This thing lasted like 45 seconds."

Powerful winds ripped the siding from part of his home, and his shed is missing.

"I looked everywhere, it's just gone. A shed," Thomas said.

Across the street, Earl Wright picked up debris in his yard with help from family.

"I thought I've seen everything, but this is totally different," he said.

The first calls for help came in at about 7 p.m. Thursday, Griffith said. A building already being demolished collapsed on Morgantown Street, he said.

"They heard the wind blowing real hard and some of the pictures were blowing off the walls in the station because we had the windows open," he said. "They said it sounded like a train coming down the street."

Firefighters worked through the night and into Friday morning to rescue about five people trapped in their houses or cars. One person had minor injuries after being struck by a door, Griffith said. Temporary shelters opened Thursday night, but no one came, he said.

State, county and local emergency management agencies conducted damage assessments Friday. Power was restored to hundreds of homes, but classes were canceled at Laurel Highlands High School because the electricity was out.

Uniontown Emergency Management Coordinator Greg Crossley on Friday didn't have an estimate of the number of structures damaged. Griffith estimated that the tornado traveled about three-quarters of a mile. Damage appears to start near the high school and continue to Pittsburgh Street, he said.

"This is the worst I've ever seen in our town," Crossley said.

At least one eyewitness told the National Weather Service they saw a funnel cloud touch the ground, meteorologist Alicia Miller said. The damage was mostly contained to the north and east sides of the city, between Connellsville and Pittsburgh streets, Crossley said.

Some parishioners hunkered down at Solid Rock Ministry on Millview Street. Valerie Hall, the pastor's wife, said about 10 people were there Thursday night for a monthly movie event when the storm blew through.

"It was just chaos, you could hear the noises and people outside screaming," Hall said. "It sounded like a bomb dropping. The building shook. It just felt like a freight train going through the building."

The church's roof, like many in the neighborhood, was damaged, as were a fence and storage building on the property.

"I'd just like to know how they're going to help these people," she said.

Assessing the damage is the first part to determine whether property owners may be able to apply to the Small Business Administration for low-interest loans, Crossley said. The mayor issued a disaster declaration.

Churches and other community groups rallied to provide aid to those who need it, Fike said.

"When you're down, that's when the tough get going, and that's what we intend to do," he said. "We're going to put our city back in place, you can count on that."

Renatta Signorini, Jacob Tierney and Joe Napsha are Tribune-Review staff writers.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me