Weather whopper sneaks up on Valley

PARKERSBURG – A storm reminiscent of the derecho that caused widespread destruction two years ago struck Tuesday afternoon, resulting in power outages and damaged buildings around the area.

A severe thunderstorm swept through portions of Wood, Washington and surrounding counties just before 2:30 p.m. Reports of tornado-like conditions were unconfirmed by the National Weather Service as of Tuesday night, but the results of the heavy winds were not hard to find.

Jon Buck, a spokesman with AEP Ohio, said there were nearly 1,000 people in Washington County without power at the height of the situation in the Marietta area. As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, all of those had been restored.

There were multiple power lines down around Belpre, and several trees had fallen on or against buildings.

Muhammad Mufti, owner of the Belpre Mini-Mart at 301 Washington Blvd., was working behind the counter when a tree fell on the building. In spite of that, the gas station remained open in the wake of the storm.

“Thank God we’re safe,” Mufti said.

Trees were down throughout Parkersburg as well, resulting in City Park being closed to the public until 8 p.m. Tuesday. Fallen trees and heavy winds damaged some houses and portions of streets in Parkersburg remained closed Tuesday evening.

One injury was reported – a teenage girl at City Park – and one woman died in Parkersburg of an apparent heart attack that could not be definitively linked to the storm.

The National Weather Service’s weather sensor in Parkersburg was not working during the storm, but wind speeds from the same system were recorded from 26 mph in Athens County to 63 mph in Elkins, W.Va., meteorologist Andrew Beavers said.

Numerous calls were made to the Wood County 911 Center from the Quincy Hill, Latrobe Street and St. Marys Avenue areas, toward Vienna, Lubeck, south Parkersburg and Blennerhassett Heights.

“At present, it looks like the west side of the county got the most damage,” Wood County 911 Director Rick Woodyard said.

Dispatchers at the 911 center answered more than 220 calls from 1:30 to 4 p.m., Woodyard said.

“That’s a horrendous amount of calls,” he said.

It was the most calls ever received in the time period, two of the senior staff members told Woodyard.

“They said this was the most influx of calls they ever had the pleasure of working,” he said. “They did an outstanding job.”

Although numerous downed trees and power lines were reported in Belpre, Mayor Mike Lorentz said he was not aware of any injuries.

“What a day,” he said. “I guess we’re blessed it’s just cleanup now.”

Lorentz was driving away from the city building with two visiting America in Bloom judges when the winds picked up and split the trunk of a tree in Howes-Grove Park.

“We were just driving through there and the tree fell in front of us,” Lorentz said. “It was just almost straight-line winds is how I describe it.”

Tree limbs and trunks were strewn around the park in the aftermath of the storm.

“It just came through and picked the limbs off like you would a flower,” said Rhonda Elder, administrative assistant for the City of Belpre.

Approximately 15,600 customers of Mon Power in Wood County were left without power in the wake of the storm, with thousands more in surrounding counties.

“Wood County is by far the hardest hit of any of the counties in that area,” said Greg Hefner, a spokesman for First Energy, of which Mon Power is a part.

Hefner said winds that reached speeds of 60 mph damaged three main transmission lines into the Parkersburg area.

The power company Tuesday night still did not have estimates as to when power might be restored to all customers. However, it appeared the repairs will continue into today.

Just under 6,000 customers in Parkersburg alone remained without power as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, more than half of the 11,622 outages in Wood County. Elsewhere in the region, outages numbered from 48 in Pleasants County to 1,472 in Wirt County.

Hefner encouraged residents without power to contact the utility on its outage line, 1-888-LIGHTSS.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said city crews will remain on duty to clear trees and other damage from streets.

“It’s going to take a while,” he said.