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Twisters have deadly history in region

Wednesday, June 03, 1998

By Jonathan D. Silver, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Residents of Western Pennsylvania are hardly strangers to the type of destruction visited by tornadoes like the ones that spun havoc throughout the region yesterday.

Since World War II, there have been at least seven events involving major twisters, including yesterday's activity, that have left death, millions of dollars in property damage and terror in their wake.

In June 1944, four tornadoes devastated Western Pennsylvania and eastern West Virginia, killing 153 people and injuring 362. Counted among the dead were 17 Allegheny County residents. The village of Montrose, W.Va., was obliterated.

Tornadoes and severe storms in July 1976 thundered through several counties, flattening 30 homes in Clover Hill Estates, a housing development on the northern outskirts of Latrobe. Three people were killed, including one woman who was lifted 150 feet into the air and dropped into a neighbor's yard. There were 21 reported injuries.

On June 3, 1980, nine tornadoes ripped through four counties in Western Pennsylvania, leaving a 50-mile-long trail of damage. One man was killed when a tree struck by lightning fell on him. In the Edgewood Estates Trailer Park in Apollo, 77 trailers were destroyed and 46 were damaged. With winds swirling at nearly 200 mph, a tornado ripped through a shopping complex in Natrona Heights, injuring 42 people.

In May 1983, a Westmoreland County tornado whirling at speeds of 100 mph injured at least 10 people and left hundreds homeless. Moving from north to east, the tornado covered 45 miles from Elizabeth to Black Lick, Indiana County.

Two years after that, on May 31, 1985, came a cluster of tornadoes that indelibly etched themselves into the annals of deadly regional twisters by killing 88 people, injuring more than 1,000 and damaging more than $450 million in property in Western Pennsylvania, northeastern Ohio, western New York and southern Canada.

Seventeen of those tornadoes hit Pennsylvania, tearing through 13 counties, including Beaver and Butler.

In Wheatland, Mercer County, more than 40 families lost their homes when a twister with winds exceeding 260 mph churned through the downtown.

For the most part, the 1990s have been kind to Western Pennsylvania in terms of widespread destruction caused by tornadoes. But the twister that sliced through Salisbury, Somerset County, Sunday was an exception. Packing winds of more than 150 mph, it killed a teen-age girl, destroyed 43 houses and rendered another 37 uninhabitable over a 15-mile-long stretch.

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