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Kennywood clearing away debris; 10 people still hospitalized

Monday, June 03, 2002

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Kennywood Park may open as early as tomorrow, but even if it does, several of its rides will remain closed.

The historic amusement park in West Mifflin has been shut down since Friday night, following a storm with winds so severe that they knocked down the wooden pavilion sheltering the Whip, killing Stephanie Wilkerson, 29, of Monroeville. At least 54 others were injured and, as of last night, 10 remained hospitalized.

Among them was a 4-year-old girl who suffered a skull fracture and was being treated at Children's Hospital. Her condition was upgraded from critical to serious.

The girl's mother, 35, was being treated yesterday at Mercy Hospital for undisclosed injuries. Her condition was listed as fair.

One other patient remained at Children's -- a 9-year-old boy with facial lacerations.

At UPMC Presbyterian, five people remained hospitalized. A hospital spokesman said three of the five were being treated for bone fractures.

None of the hospitals would release the names of the injured.

Police, firefighters, municipal employees, friends and neighbors yesterday continued their efforts to clean up the nearby Homeville section of West Mifflin, one of the hardest hit areas in Allegheny County.

Specialists from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency are expected to arrive in the county today to assess the storm's damage and determine whether residents qualify for low-interest loans through the federal Small Business Administration.

Kennywood spokeswoman Mary Lou Rosemeyer said park officials likely will decide this afternoon about reopening after they assess each of the 31 main rides and 18 Kiddie Land rides.

"There's so much to do here that we believe people can have a good time even if some rides are not open," Rosemeyer said. "Obviously, we want to get the park back open, but we're not going to rush to do that."

More than 600 Kennywood employees spent the weekend clearing the park of debris from the storm that cut through Homeville, then made its way down over the ridge through Kennywood's parking lot and across Route 837 into Lost Kennywood where the Whip is located.

The storm -- classified by the National Weather Service as a macroburst -- moved through the park shortly before 7 p.m., causing damage at Noah's Ark, the Paratrooper, Old Mill, Log Jammer, Raging Rapids and Pittsburg Plunge. The last two rides had to be drained after debris was removed. Cleaning and refilling will take several days.

The storm dropped leaves, branches and whole trees onto some of the rides, park landscaping and the midway. Crews also found stuffed animals, trays of food, shingles, overturned garbage cans and other debris throughout the park.

"It's just strange," Rosemeyer said. "Some places weren't touched at all."

Rosemeyer said that Saturday and yesterday were spent cleaning up the park so that inspectors can get to the rides today.

"This is going to be a major inspection," she said.

Some rides may take longer to reopen than others.

The Log Jammer, for example, which was overhauled over the winter, still was covered by broken branches yesterday.

"It will be a while going in and repairing that," Rosemeyer said.

At the Old Mill, a tree branch broke through the roof and plunged through the wooden trough, creating a drainage hole for the water to run out. The Old Mill, opened in 1901, is the oldest ride in the park and the oldest water ride in the world.

Aside from the rides, the food booths and arcades appear to have come through the storm unscathed, with the exception of the Fastball game.

"It's gone," Rosemeyer said.

The park's warehouse lost power, but because the refreshment stands did not, much of the food was saved and could be properly stored in refrigerators and freezers throughout the facility. Some deliveries have been delayed, Rosemeyer said.

The park sales staff spent the weekend helping groups reschedule picnics and other events. Rosemeyer said it was a little easier to do than expected because the park will be open this year on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8.

Kennywood traditionally closes on Labor Day, but with an extra weekend, some picnics can be rescheduled to one of those dates.

The South Park School District picnic that was to be held today has been rescheduled for June 25.

Individuals who had weekend tickets will be able to use them any day this season or next.

The storm's damage was centered in the city's East End and throughout the Mon Valley.

"We are working with the county to collect information on the damage," said April Hutcheson, a spokeswoman for the state EMA.

Hutcheson said if more than 25 homes in the county have 40 percent or more uninsured structural damage from the storm, the area could be eligible for the low-interest loans.

Allegheny County residents who suspect their homes suffered structural damage are advised to call the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services at 412-473-2550.

Some of Verizon's 1.9 million access lines were still out of service yesterday, but the outages were isolated. Service is expected to be restored today.

Staff writer Steve Levin contributed to this report.

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