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Winds, rain sweep through region

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Flash floods soaked Crawford, Mercer and Venango counties, and high winds blew through Western Pennsylvania yesterday afternoon, leaving behind flooded basements and thousands of residents without power.

By last night, the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh had received more than 500 reports of storm damage in the area caused by flooding and winds that ripped out trees and downed power lines.

"Just about every county was struck," said Ray Visneski, a meteorologist at the weather service.

Visneski said there had been numerous reports of funnel clouds in Mercer County, where a tornado warning and flash flood watch were in effect last night. Storms continued moving through northeastern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania throughout the night.

Joe Balaban, a spokesman for Duquesne Light, said about 14,000 homes in Allegheny and Beaver counties lost power after high winds blew through the region yesterday afternoon. By 9 p.m. last night, all but 150 customers in Beaver County had their power restored. He anticipated everyone's power would be restored by this morning.

The region was under a high wind warning until 8 p.m. Balaban said wires were short-circuited when tree branches fell on them or the wires wrapped around each other. He said Whitehall and Ross were the hardest hit, but West Deer, Reserve, Fox Chapel, O'Hara, Hampton, Brentwood, Baldwin Borough and Dormont also were affected.

Power outages also were reported in Center Township, Monaca and Conway in Beaver County.

"We saw storms hit Beaver around 1:45 p.m.," Balaban said. 'By 3 p.m., the winds moved through Allegheny County."

Allegheny Power reported more than 10,000 customers in Butler and Clarion counties lost power when wind and rains swept through the counties. Another 8,000 to 9,000 customers in southwestern communities, including Arnold, Latrobe, Kittanning, and parts of Fayette and Washington counties also lost power. Allegheny County spokeswoman Janice Lantz said the company is working to get the power restored to most customers by today.

In Titusville, Crawford County, a torrential downpour that began at about 3 p.m. yesterday caused Church Run Creek to flood.

"We probably had over 100 homes with flooded basements," said Chief Joe Crotty of the Titusville Fire Department.

In Cochranton, Crawford County, basements were flooded and power lines were down.

"It's really kind of bad," said Barb Stockton, a member of the Cochranton Volunteer Fire Department. "One family lost their whole home."

Through the day, the National Weather Service issued warnings for high winds, tornadoes and flash floods across the region. Last night, a second band of heavy thunderstorms moved into rain-swollen Mercer County, bringing with it another tornado warning.

Visneski said the weather service would be investigating numerous reports of funnel clouds in Mercer, including some kind of wind storm that may have had a tornado imbedded in it, that moved through Mercer yesterday afternoon.

Jan Ackerman can be reached at jackerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.

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