Severe Storm Rips Across Valley

WHEELING – A severe thunderstorm with winds reaching 70 mph slammed the Ohio Valley on Friday evening, downing utility poles and trees, closing roads and ripping the roof off a church in Belmont County.

The storm came with a tornado warning from the National Weather Service, which advised residents to take shelter. At the height of the storm, 243,000 people across the state of Ohio were without power, along with hundreds in the Ohio County area.

Locally, the Barnesville-Somerton area was hit first with multiple downed trees and debris. The wind was strong enough to rip the roof off a church and toss it into the street in Somerton.

Additional roof damage was reported at Centre Foundry in Warwood, where a section of the roof was torn off.

Motorists on Interstate 470 in Belmont County encountered a slew of orange construction barrels scattered across the highway, some even on the hillside. At the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville, the lights flickered and then went out all at once as the building and surrounding businesses lost power. There also were reports of Barnesville Hospital having to resort to backup power because of a loss of electricity.

Dave Ivan, Belmont County Emergency Management Agency director, at about 8 p.m. was waiting for the storm to calm before surveying the damage outside.

“Looking at the radar, it’s starting to fizzle,” he said. “It was countywide. No one part of the county got more than anyone else.”

Ivan said to his knowledge, no one in Belmont County reported actually seeing a funnel cloud touch down.

But according to the NWS, the storm’s wind speeds reached up to 80 mph in some sections of the state of Ohio.

In Wetzel County at Magnolia High School, the football field’s new press box was destroyed when the wind hit it, causing the two-story structure to land on the track and smash into pieces.

Lou Vargo, Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management Agency director, said there was some damage to homes across Ohio County, but nothing major that he knew of.

“We’re just prioritizing calls right now. All the firefighters, police officers and sheriff’s department are out right now. Power lines are down and arcing all over the city and county,” Vargo said. “There are accidents all over – trees are down and people are running into each other, but nothing with major injuries.”

Some motorists at The Highlands in Ohio County were forced to seek shelter inside stores, as the strong wind began rocking their vehicles. And because of the deluge of rain, some stores had minor flooding from water seeping under the front doors.

While on vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Tom Hart, Marshall County Emergency Management Agency director, said he received a report about the damage from his deputy, Mike Mucheck, who was out surveying the damage at press time.

“We’ve had some weather here, but nothing like the past two days up there with the heat and storm,” Hart noted.

Hart said all 15 of the county’s fire departments, sheriff’s deputies and highways workers were out trying to make roads passable because they were blocked by downed trees.