close
close

Residents and churchgoers remember the tornado landing and begin clearing debris

Debris from a large building owned by Larry and Michele Abel of Finleyville hit trees Saturday after a tornado struck their home.

article image
article imageCourtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Pennsylvania Commonwealth microbiologist Kerry Pollard performs a manual extraction of the coronavirus at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories extraction laboratory on March 6.

article imageJim Downey | Herald standard

Connellsville right fielder Evan Means runs under a fly ball that is hit by Uniontown’s Brant Bonadio for an out in the bottom of the second inning in Saturday’s FCALBL semifinal at Hutchinson Field.

article imageSubmitted

Kristi Kassimer Harper was the 2004 Fayette County Fair Queen and the 2005 PA Fair Queen.

article imageSteve Barrett

Steve Barrett

Louie Vecchio shows an old photo of the original building owned by his father, James Vecchio, in the late 1920s. The gas station was converted into a bar and restaurant that also offered gas station services after Prohibition ended and was renamed Jimmie’s Beer Garden.

article imageAlyssa Choiniere

Alyssa Choiniere

Steve White of Dawson poses with his vehicle, Ardie the Rat Rod, which he built in six months. He was part of the Founding Day car show in Uniontown on Saturday.

A 40 by 60 building owned by Larry and Michele Abel of McClelland Road, Finleyville, was destroyed when a likely

An F1 tornado ripped through their grounds on Saturday.
(/subtitles)

article imageJim Downey | Herald standard

Connellsville’s Kace Shearer steps to the plate for the game’s first run as Uniontown’s Brant Bonadio (13) and Christian Thomas look for the throw in the top of the first inning in Saturday’s FCALBL semifinal at Hutchinson Field.

article image
article image

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Lynn Michigan, who was attending a Saturday evening service at Crossroads Ministries in Finleyville with her husband, Rob, when a tornado touched down around 6:05 p.m.

Rob, a member of the Castle Shannon Volunteer Fire Department, was helping with efforts to get about 100 worshipers to safety in the church basement when the tornado struck.

“I’ve been in the fire service since 1984 and this is the first time I’ve experienced anything like this, and I don’t want to experience it again,” he said.

On Sunday, worshipers from Crossroads Ministries and residents of Union Township, Washington County, began clearing debris and making repairs after the tornado passed through the area.

At least a dozen homes and Crossroads Ministries, along with dozens of cars, were damaged, and trees and power lines were downed as the tornado and high winds tore a path through Union and Peters townships.

The National Weather Service Pittsburgh confirmed Saturday evening that a tornado touched down near Finleyville between 6:05 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. An NWS crew visited the site Sunday morning to assess damage and intensity, and preliminary evidence suggests the tornado was an F1.

The Rev. Ken Barner, pastor, was leading a service with about 100 churchgoers, including infants, when the tornado approached and knew they had to take cover.

“My wife, Rhonda, was singing and suddenly you heard the sound of the storm, you could hear the wind outside. The power went out once, then the power went off and came back on. “I knew there had been a tornado warning for Lawrence County at 5 p.m., so I started evacuating people downstairs where there is a cinder block basement,” Barner said.

Part of the roof of an office/classroom connected to the church was ripped off and the tower was toppled, spilling into the parking lot.

“The roof was lifted off, came over the church, and it’s somewhere in the woods. There is debris everywhere, but everyone is safe and we praise God, Barner said, noting that several members of the congregation suffered cuts and bruises from broken glass.

Video footage taken by some church members showed the funnel cloud forming and debris flying through the air.

Meanwhile, Gene and Joyce Abel of McClelland Road, near Trax Farms, hosted a birthday party for their 4-year-old granddaughter, with a dozen guests in attendance, unaware of the approaching tornado.

Next door, Gene’s brother and sister-in-law, Larry and Michele Abel, were babysitting their two grandsons.

“My husband, son and son-in-law were all outside. They saw the tornado, and as soon as they saw it, it touched down over our house,” Joyce Abel recalled. “My husband had to hold on to the railing of the house because he almost went over it. The roof flew off our house and almost hit my son. He said, ‘Come on, we gotta get out of here.’ They couldn’t even get back into the house fast enough. They saw the twister, but my husband said it looked like it was way over the hill, but within the next two seconds it was there.

The second floor of their house was destroyed.

“I tried to close my door and the top balcony of my house fell down right in front of me,” Joyce Abel said.

Michele Abel was riding in a golf cart in the yard with her young grandsons when it started to rain and turned the sky orange.

“It was so creepy that you thought something was going to happen. I just made a note of it and thought how beautiful the sky was, but it was so eerie. It was yellow and orange and it looked like the clouds were almost reaching down. I had no idea a tornado was coming,” she said.

Abel went inside with her grandchildren, and within minutes the wind picked up “and we heard things hitting the window.”

Larry Abel walked downstairs and opened a door, and it flew open when the wind blew it.

“Then the force that hit the side of the house was unbelievable, and (Larry) said, ‘There’s a tornado,’” Michele said. “So I grabbed the kids and started taking them downstairs. But when I grabbed them, I saw all this stuff spinning and falling over, and we ran to the basement and within fifteen seconds it was over. When I came back, our 40 by 60 meter building was gone in the backyard.

In addition to the extensive damage to the building, the roof of their home was also damaged and several trees, including a huge 25-year-old maple and apple trees, were uprooted and toppled.

Emergency services from across the country, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army, responded to the scene and a staging area was set up at Trax Farms immediately after the tornado.

Washington County Commissioner Nick Sherman said Saturday evening that a dozen homes were damaged, some with serious structural damage.

Infrared drones flew and a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter flew over the area as part of a search and rescue effort.

“We’re going to make sure we work through the night to help these people get all the resources they need. We’ve had a roofing company come by and do emergency tarps all night, which is great for them to do that,” Sherman said.

There were no serious injuries.

Golf ball-sized hail also fell in parts of Fayette County, including Uniontown and Allegheny County.