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Still cleaning up

  • Special to the TIMES NEWS Trees crashed onto Phil Price's house on Crescent Drive in the Lake Hauto development.
    Special to the TIMES NEWS Trees crashed onto Phil Price's house on Crescent Drive in the Lake Hauto development.
Published July 28. 2011 05:01PM

Retired welding supervisor Phil Price was looking forward to getting home as he drove between the weathered wooden pyramids on Route 54 and headed down the winding road through the Lake Hauto development.

It was about 10 p.m. on July 7, and a storm had just rolled through the area, so Price expected some branches on the road.

But the damage was so bad that the roads leading to his Crescent Drive home were closed, blocked by fallen trees and downed utility wires. Price slept in his car that night. When he finally reached home at 5 a.m. the next morning, he found five trees had been blown onto his house and its attached garage, damaging the roof, scratching the wood siding and smashing out a first-floor window. A fallen tree blocked the entrance.

"There's at least $30,000 in damage," he said.

The storm thrashed Lake Hauto, laying to waste about a thousand trees, knocking out power, crushing roofs and cars and breaking windows.

"For the world, it's a small disaster. For Lake Hauto it was a big disaster," said Lake Hauto Club President Ken Snyder. "We couldn't get from one end of the lake to the other for three days."

Snyder said cleanup and repair costs have yet to be tallied. The cleanup of common areas is being done by the club. The work includes picking up and chipping branches smaller than two inches in diameter that residents can put out by the curb.

Snyder said a Weissport company is coming in on Monday to log fallen trees and branches larger than two inches in diameter. They'll take the wood away at no cost to the club. Residents can call the club office at (570) 645-7100 for a release to sign if they want the company to take the fallen trees from their yards, Snyder said.

He said the club suffered losses that will not be paid for by insurance.

"We lost a whole fence at the basketball court. Lake Hauto is getting no insurance money whatsoever," he said.

The latest storm damage comes on top of that inflicted when a hail storm pummeled the area on May 26.

Now, three weeks after the devastating wind storm, crews are still clearing the fallen trees and debris, and the roofs of many homes in the private development remain covered with silver-colored tarp as their owners await insurance estimates and repairs.

Most of the damage appeared to have been in four separate channels, leaving swaths of flattened trees in lines extending from west of Lake Drive across the lake east out to Route 54. The development straddles Nesquehoning in Carbon and Rush Township in Schuylkill County.

The odd pattern prompted residents to speculate about exactly what happened. Some believe a tornado struck, others believe the damage was caused by wind shear.

National Weather Service meteorologist Lee Robertson said his Mount Holly office received a report of trees down. What may have happened, he said, was a phenomenon called microbursts.

"Microbursts are pockets of strong air embedded in a thunderstorm. They lower themselves from the storm and disperse winds of up to 100 mph," he said.

Robertson likened the microbursts to dropping a water balloon to the ground from a great height: The water would splay out in various directions from a central point.

"This is like a bubble of air that drops from clouds and hits the ground. The winds are very strong, and can knock trees down. A lot of people confuse them with tornadoes. Trees can be knocked down in straight line in different directions," he said.

The paths can range from a couple hundred feet to a couple hundred yards wide, he said. Microbursts, which can also be called downdrafts or microdrafts, "can be extremely dangerous," Robertson said.

Price, who has lived in the house for 31 years, said he had never seen this much damage from a storm. Three trees landed on his garage and two on the house.

Price had good company: Many homes in the development were damaged by falling trees. It took until Sunday for electricity to be restored to all 700 PPL customers who had lost power during the storm.

"The damage from toppled trees and broken limbs was tremendous," said PPL spokesman Paul Canevari. "What made this situation especially bad was that, for the most part, these were very large trees that fell in a relatively confined area, which made getting into the trouble area very difficult.

"Our tree crews spent the better part of 24 hours just clearing the way so line crews could access areas to make repairs," he said.

Canevari said that "much of the work was beyond general repairs. In some cases, we had to rebuild entire sections replacing poles, installing new transformers and stringing new line. All of this added to the duration of the outage."

The majority of the customers were back in service the next day, he said.

"We had crews working around the clock until service was restored to everyone. We had 25 crews on day time Friday and Saturday, and a dozen on at night," Canevari said.

That translated to about 50 or 60 linemen working during that 48-hour period, he said.

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