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Massive cleanup starts

Tornado confirmed in the area

Chris Meyers utilizes a bucket truck and a chainsaw on Saturday to dismantle a fallen oak tree that landed on a house on Bow Creek Road in Mountain Top following Friday’s storm that hit parts of Luzerne County.

Times Leader Staff Photo/Pete G. Wilcox

Several large trees that were toppled during Friday’s storm rest on the house of Paul and Monica Papsun of Schultz Lane in Mountain Top while work goes on to clear the fallen trees from the property during Saturday’s cleanup.

Times Leader Staff Photo/Pete G. Wilcox

High winds from Friday’s tornado damaged the McDonald’s sign on state Route 309 in Mountain Top.

Times Leader Staff Photo/Pete G. Wilcox

WRIGHT TWP. – Nearly a dozen downed trees, some reaching 70 feet high with trunks measuring two feet in diameter, surrounded the South Mountain Boulevard home of Barry and Carolyn Boone.

The scene was the same throughout a narrow five-mile path beginning in Hollenback Township and ending in Fairview Township caused by a tornado that touched down shortly before 5 p.m. Friday.

Dave Nicosia, warning coordinator meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Binghamton, N.Y., said the tornado reached a F2 at its peak near Mr. Z’s, where the winds reached 120 mph. The rest of the tornado was an F1, reaching winds of 70 to 90 mph.

“This is the first time we had a tornado in Pennsylvania in December on record,” he said. “It stood on the ground for 15 miles, which is highly unusual.”

The peak time for tornadoes in the state are from late May and early June, he said.

Officials with the National Weather Service and the Luzerne County Emergency Management Administration spent much of Saturday inspecting the damage of the tornado.

Wind speeds topped 70 miles per hour in the Mountain Top area causing widespread damage to homes and businesses. Power outages kept many businesses along state Route 309 closed, and forced homeowners to use generators to heat their homes or power their refrigerators to keep food from spoiling.

Barry Boone and his children were busy cutting up the toppled trees around his home on Saturday. Luckily, the only damage to the Boone home was the front porch and railing.

“Look at that, the picnic table didn’t even move,” Carolyn Boone said looking out her patio door.

Just a few feet away, trees that were upright for decades lay on the ground like twigs.

“How can those trees that are old and solid snap like that when my picnic table didn’t even move,” Carolyn Boone said.

Carolyn Boone said she was in her bedroom when the storm hit, flicking her lights on and off. She heard the winds outside and yelled to her elderly mother, Joan Nork, to get to the basement.

“As soon as we got to the basement door, it was over,” Carolyn Boone said. “Then we heard two more were on the way.

“It’s just as they say in the movies, it sounded like a freight train outside,” Carolyn Boone said. “We are lucky no one got hurt.”

Her elderly father, Henry Nork, was on his way home from receiving kidney dialysis in Nanticoke and had to travel through Dorrance Township and Nuangola.

“I never saw anything like it,” Henry Nork said.

The Boone family was using a generator to power a few appliances inside their home, including a liquid oxygen tank for Henry Nork.

“I’m lucky I have this portable tank,” Henry Nork said about his smaller oxygen tank operated by batteries.

As the picnic table on the Boone’s deck didn’t move, two lawn chairs stayed put on the deck of Bonnie Dimirco’s home on South Mountain Boulevard.

“Look at all the trees that are down and those chairs didn’t move at all,” Dimirco said. “We have a home in Florida and we’ve gone through three hurricanes. I’ve never seen any damage like this.”

Dimirco’s home suffered minor damage from the high winds. Her only concern is that her home is fully electric.

“We have a well and we have no water. We have no heat,” Dimirco said.

Dimirco said she stood in the middle of her home fearing windows would implode when the storm passed.

“It’s exactly as they say, it sounded like a train,” Dimirco said.

The worst visible damage to a home occurred at a residence on Rockledge Drive, adjacent to Route 309, with its roof blown away exposing bedrooms and a bathroom. Insulation in the attic completely covered trees behind the home. The homeowners were removing furniture into a rental moving truck.

The house next door on Rockledge Drive remained intact, including outdoor Christmas wreaths on all the windows.

Further south on Blytheburn Road, Sly Dugan was cleaning up tree limbs and mud from his yard on Saturday. Dugan said he was out in his yard tying lawn ornaments down when the winds picked up late Friday afternoon.

“I heard the winds 10 miles away,” Dugan said. “I was chasing things in my yard that were blowing around. When I got in my home, I was just looking out the window. Never saw anything like it.”

Just down the street from Dugan’s home, power lines were across the roadway causing motorists to turn around and find an alternative route.

Throughout the Mountain Top area, an army of PPL crews were busy repairing and replacing utility poles and power transformers.

Early Saturday morning, nearly three dozen new utility poles and about 15 new power transformers were placed in a vacant lot near Mr. Z’s Food Mart. By noon, there were 18 utility poles and four power transformers remaining.

PPL expected most customers to have their power back in service by this morning.

At Mr. Z’s where four large windows imploded injuring six people with flying glass, employees were throwing away food, fresh produce and boxed items such as cookies into dumpsters. Repair crews were up on the roof repairing holes that allowed rain into the store destroying the food.

Nicosia of the National Weather Service said the tornado touched ground in Hobbie, Hollenback Township, six miles east of Berwick, and ripped through Dorrance Township, crossed over Interstate 81, and continued through Wright and Fairview townships.

“We still found damage in Mountain Top,” he said. “But we lost daylight. There were at least 1,000 trees knocked down due to the tornado.”

Staff writer Ron Lieback contributed to this report.

Be advised

Stanley Gutkowski, emergency management coordinator for Wright Township, advises homeowners in the Mountain Top area that are without power to be careful when using candles, gasoline generators and propane grills.

Gutkowski said there were reports Saturday that people were using propane grills to heat their homes and to cook food inside their homes. He said carbon monoxide, an odorless and toxic gas produced by gasoline engines or propane tanks, can build up without proper ventilation and kill people.

At lower levels, carbon monoxide causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of carbon monoxide exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending in age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Gutkowski said homeowners who are using candles to illuminate their homes should keep them away from flammable materials, such as curtains and paper products.

“LOOK AT THAT, the picnic table didn’t even move. How can those trees that

are old and solid snap like that when my picnic table didn’t even move.”

Carolyn Boone, homeowner
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