Weather service confirms tornado in Pa.

March 24, 2011 11:05:24 AM PDT
A tornado was responsible for destroying or badly damaging about 60 homes in western Pennsylvania, National Weather Service meteorologists said Thursday as they continued a survey of the storm's aftermath.

The worst damage from Wednesday's storm appeared to be in Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County along the U.S. Route 30 corridor, about 25 miles east of Pittsburgh. Local officials expressed amazement that no one was hurt.

"No one county-wide was injured. We have no fatalities," Westmoreland County emergency management spokesman Dan Stevens told reporters Thursday. "This is absolutely a March miracle."

Only a few minor injuries were reported in the greater Pittsburgh area as the same storm produced hail larger than golf balls and brought torrential rains and wind that damaged roofs and downed trees and power lines.

Schools in the Hempfield Area School District were closed Thursday because of heavy damage to the high school and other buildings. The Charleroi School District in Washington County, about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, also canceled classes because of power outages.

Residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged were largely thankful the assault was confined to property.

"I'm really not the crying type, but this is just unbelievable," Bob Boyce told WPXI-TV, while surveying his 93-acre farm that was blown apart in the storm. "If I got the money if I get it from the insurance, I'll fix it up as good as I can."

As many as 27,000 West Penn Power customers lost service. By Thursday afternoon, only a few hundred were still without power. The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the township municipal building where food was available. It was not immediately clear how many people had stayed at another shelter overnight.

Mostly, people were thankful to be safe.

"I went outside taking my dogs in. I looked at the sky. It was getting real bad," Robin Aaron told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I grabbed my daughter and called to my son. We were all curled into a ball" in the family room.

"My whole home is gone. It took everything," Aaron said. "I'm surprised I'm not dead."

Meteorologist Lee Hendricks said surveyors continued to gather information so they could determine the intensity of the tornado and assign a rating.