A tornado touched down in northeastern Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, ravaging businesses, flipping rental trucks, downing trees and power lines, and injuring at least six people in Wilkes-Barre Township.
The storm was so violent that part of a Dick’s Sporting Goods sign was carried “miles away” to neighboring Bear Creek Township, Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Ron Smith said, adding that he had “never seen anything like this.”
The National Weather Service categorized the tornado as an EF2, meaning it was a “strong” tornado with wind speeds between 111 to 135 mph. The “Enhanced Fujita” scale rates the intensity of tornadoes based on estimated wind speeds and observed damage.
Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri called Wednesday’s storm “a catastrophic weather event,” describing the damage as “severe.”
“Numerous buildings have had their roofs torn off; we’ve had concrete blocks thrown a quarter of a mile and pieces of trucks that have been thrown some distance,” he told reporters Thursday.
Pedri said at a morning briefing that there were no major injuries or casualties but that six minor injuries have been reported.
“We were very lucky that this came through at 10:22, because this would be a very, very busy place at approximately 6 p.m., 7 p.m., especially on Father’s Day weekend,” he said.
Pedri said 23 businesses were damaged or destroyed in the storm. Officials said the next step is to assess the damage to determine which structures can be repaired and which ones must be condemned.
Leading up to the NWS’s assessment, Ben Reppert, a meteorologist for the weather communications department at Penn State University, said a tornado would have been particularly dangerous. It would have been “rain-wrapped” and traveling across hilly terrain in the dark, meaning that it would have been “nearly impossible for people to see it if they were out and about.”
He said it would have been a “blind attack.”
And it was.
The NWS later said in a bulletin that a “storm survey team has confirmed a tornado occurred in the Wilkes-Barre Township during the evening of June 13, 2018. The storm survey is ongoing and additional information concerning the track, damage and intensity of the tornado will be available later today.”
A tornado warning was issued late Wednesday night for Wilkes-Barre and nearby Kingston and Plymouth.
Soon after, Wilkes-Barre police said on Twitter that there had been a “report of multiple collapsed buildings [in the] area of Mundy Street,” and urged drivers to avoid the area.
“At first I didn’t take it seriously because we’re not supposed to get tornadoes here,” James Roheña, a J.C. Penney employee, told the Citizens’ Voice about the moment he heard the tornado warning. “But then the rain started coming down in waves, with flashes of lightning. So I shut the doors and locked them, and the next thing I knew, it felt like I was in the movie ‘Twister.’ ”
Photos and videos on social media showed shattered storefronts and parking lots strewn with debris.
“The destruction is unbelievable,” Ryan Walsh, who manages the J.C. Penney store in the area, told the Citizens’ Voice. “You see this stuff on TV, not here.”