Feb. 2018

Uniontown Cleaning and Rebuilding after Tornado Aftermath


About 59 buildings were significantly damaged in the two-mile path of a tornado Thursday evening, according to
city officials.

The tornado touched down at 6:43 p.m. near the intersection of Phillipi Avenue and Pittsburgh Street near Otto
Brick Co. and traveled east, lifting off by Kennedy Street Extension near Woodview Terrace, according to
National Weather Service meteorologist Lee Hendricks. The EF1 tornado was 1/4 mile wide with 105 mph winds.
The worst damage was between Monroe and North Gallatin avenues, where full and partial roofs were ripped
from homes. About half the roof was torn from Maple Garden Apartments, a four-level senior living facility,
Hendricks said.
“And thankfully, the track just missed Laurel Highlands High School,” Hendricks said.

Dozens of trees were toppled over in a field just south of the high school. High winds caused loud creaking and
scraping sounds from the high school auditorium during a school board meeting as the tornado narrowly
missed the school, knocking out power at the high school and administration office.
A house near the intersection of Bailey Avenue and Lemon Street was nearly leveled. Next door, Denise Minick’
s rental property was badly damaged when a large tree fell on the roof.
“It’s devastation, everywhere,” she said from her front steps as she waited for insurance adjusters to assess the
damage Monday morning.

She was at work at the Salvation Army when the tornado hit. Her son and his girlfriend drove by her home and
told her that “it was bad.” That night, she stayed in her car until waking early for her second job, delivering the
Herald-Standard. The next night, she stayed with her son. The following night, she planned to stay in the house
but worried heavy snow would cause the rest of her roof to collapse, and stayed with her sister. Monday, an
uninhabitable property notice was on her front door.
“My son said it’s time to move out and start over,” she said.
Uninhabitable property notices dotted front doors throughout the tornado’s path. City officials said workers from
K2 Engineering assessed properties Monday, marking some with uninhabitable notices instead of condemning
the properties in hopes that the buildings can be repaired. The number of uninhabitable properties was not
available Monday afternoon.

“It was unexpected. It just came out of nowhere,” Minick said.
Weather forecasters were also surprised by the rare tornado. The National Weather Service issued a severe
thunderstorm warning at 6:48 p.m., which included a notice about unexpected tornadoes during storms,
advising locals to take shelter in the event of a tornado, Hendricks said. The weather service in Pittsburgh had
not recorded a tornado in February in its territory since 1950. The tornado formed when a cold weather system
and warm weather system collided, Hendricks said.
“Sometimes, the signals for a severe thunderstorm downburst and a relatively weak tornado don’t look a whole
lot different from each other, and if you’re not looking for it in a very short window of time, it might be something
you miss,” he said, adding that seeing a cyclone form in advance of the tornado would require looking at the
radar at the exact time and location it formed.
Angel Griest, who lived on Gallatin Avenue, was home with her 7-year-old daughter and 6-year-old neighbor
when the tornado tore a hole in her roof and damaged a wall.
“It was like an explosion. It was just a really loud bang,” she said.

Her oldest daughter was walking to the store when the tornado hit, and Griest frantically called her to see if she
was OK. The girl had no idea a tornado hit the city. At home, “the girls were screaming non-stop.”
“Until I came outside, and everything was everywhere,” she said.
Many roofs were covered in tarps Monday morning as locals worked to rebuild. Others remained vacant on
streets that were mainly quiet but for the creaking sounds of siding dangling from damaged houses.
Griest and Minick said they are staying with family members, and are unsure about long-term living
arrangements. As locals who lost their homes plan their next steps, city officials are working on recovery.
“Basically on my end now, I’m trying to get stuff going with recovery — see if people have needs they can’t
meet, see where people can call and get services if needed,” said Uniontown Emergency Management Agency
Coordinator Greg Crossley.
The roadways were cleared by Monday morning. Yards stacked with debris on Friday were nearly cleared over
the weekend. Others remained cluttered with remnants of building materials, and insulation clung to trees and
fences.

Uniontown Mayor Ed Fike said 12 Dumpsters filled with debris were cleared by Monday, in addition to trucks
and other vehicles that hauled materials scattered by the storm.
“You’d be surprised how much has been done. There was lots and lots of work done by volunteers, city
officials,” he said. “We’re on the right road. We’re going to be aggressive in putting everything together.”

By Alyssa Choiniere achoiniere@heraldstandard.com
Uniontown Gets Hit with Tornado