Westmoreland storm cleanup in full force

Mary Pickels
| Friday, July 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A powerful storm on Wednesday downed trees and caused power outages in sections of Westmoreland County, including Derry Township, where it toppled tents and crushed animal cages at the agricultural fair but caused no injuries.

Richard Balik, chief of Salem Township Volunteer Fire Department, Company No. 1 (Slickville), said the department began receiving calls shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“We logged 34 calls, from about 20 incidents,” he said on Thursday.

Sections of Route 819 north, Athena Drive, Rock Springs Road and Church Street were closed at some point because of downed trees or power lines.

Route 819 and Rock Springs reopened, while utility crews continued to repair power lines downed by trees on Athena and Church on Thursday afternoon.

“We should have everything cleaned up by (Friday) morning,” said township Supervisor Bob Zundel.

He and Supervisor Ron Martz related incidents of motorists moving barricades or driving on the edges of roads that had been closed.

“They are taking their lives in their hands,” Zundel said.

Firefighters attempting to check on Floretta Johns, who is bedridden and depends on oxygen and a ventilator, had to follow Route 22 and Trees Mills Road to reach her Winchester Lane residence, Balik said.

Bill Johns had called 911 on Wednesday evening when his power failed. A battery back-up for his wife's medical equipment only lasts a certain time, he said.

With the assistance of township officials and firefighters, along with a neighbor, Johns said, three generators — the first two failed — were provided before power was restored at 3 p.m.

It was the first time his wife required a generator, he said, praising the township's efforts.

Balik said firefighters remained out until 4 a.m., blocking off roads, protecting people from power lines and directing traffic.

In Murrysville, a police dispatcher reported trees fell into the municipal building parking lot, but no vehicle damage or injuries resulted.

By midday, director of public works and parks Bob Bell reported all roads were open.

Traffic signals on Old William Penn Highway and Route 22 were working by Wednesday night, he said.

“We are cleaning up a lot of downed trees,” Bell said.

A crew of six municipal workers on Wednesday night had to return to their homes and retrieve chain saws to clear trees to reach the public works building, Bell said.

“We had crews out from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and started again at 6 a.m. (Thursday),” he said.

Mary Duncan, vice president of the Derry Township Agricultural Fair, said a corps of volunteers had begun working on erecting tents and placing coops for rabbits and chickens when the storm blew in.

At least five large tents collapsed, one while a man was working inside it.

The man was not injured, Duncan said.

The coops, she said, were “squashed.”

An electrical-box connection was torn off a pole.

“We hope to have everything up and running for Sunday's opening,” she said.

Duncan said she and president Melissa Monticue, secretary Megan Reed and treasurer Lacy Weimer have been involved with the fair for years.

“We have three days to try to get everything done. We plan to bust our butts,” she said.

West Penn Power spokesman Todd Meyers said about 50,000 customers lost power Wednesday night, with 22,000 of them in Washington County.

Westmoreland County customer outages numbered about 6,000 to 7,000, he said.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, West Penn Power's website showed 258 customers in Westmoreland County still lacked power, including 100 in Salem and 26 in Murrysville.

The site noted that power was expected to be restored to the majority of customers by noon Friday.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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