Sunday, May 31, 2020

When A Tornado Ripped Through Our Valley - 1985

The deadliest tornado to ever hit Pennsylvania occurred on May 31, 1985. 
It struck  the area between 9:25-10:15pm, hitting Allenwood, Dewart, and Watsontown, including Hidden Creek Campground and Spring Lake Village.  Rated an F4, the tornado was 1.5 miles wide and it's path was 19 miles in length. It resulted in 6 deaths, and more than 60 injured, in our local area alone. More than 60 people were killed across the state.

The day had been hot, and incredibly muggy. There had been news about a possible tornado warning, but tornadoes  are so uncommon in Pennsylvania that no one was truly concerned. And then, that evening, there were dark skies,forbidding winds and large hail. n Some recall seeing sideways lightning — green and blue lightning, and the temperature suddenly dropped.  

Witness was playing at the Pike Drive in, just two miles from the Tornado's path.  Spectators recall the sky turning a weird shade of green, and then strong winds shook the cars as the tornado moved through the areas nearby. (The drive it was not damaged, the storm passed nearby, but did not touch that area)

Before long, there was a  strange sound from across the countryside, like a freight train rumbling. 

(The Arrow is not quite correct here, it hit a bit above Allenwood)

The tornado traveled east-southeast from one mile west of Bastress in Lycoming County, downing hundreds of trees in the Tiadaghton State Forest, and ascending  into the White Deer Ridge. It then lifted briefly over the Ridge, before touching down again.  It moved into Union County and widened to 1.5 miles as is crossed the Susquehanna River into northern Northumberland County. 

The shaded area shows where the damages occurred

“It came down over the mountain,” said Karen Lynch, who lived with her family on a farm on Alvira Road. “For years, you could see the path where it came down off the mountain.”

It was Memorial Day Week-End, and Hidden Creek Campground in Union County was at full capacity.   In the Campground, two people were killed and 20 were injured. 

 An 83-year-old woman survived when her mobile home was thrown over an 80-foot cliff and landed in a tree. Thomas Hess, the county’s director of emergency services at the time, told the newspaper that 80 percent — 48 — of the 60 campsites were destroyed while the rest sustained minor to major damage.

 A total of 48 campers, 8 homes, three mobile homes and 18 vehicles were destroyed in Union County.  Five additional homes were damaged.

 In Northumberland County, Two business, 140 mobile homes, 77 homes, a church, 28 barns, 9 silos and 28 garages were damaged or destroyed.  A total of 190 structures and 50 vehicles were damaged or destroyed by the tornado.

Thirty mobile homes in Spring Lake Village were destroyed.

 Numerous homes were blown off their foundations and moved as much as 20 feet away - most with occupants inside. No one was seriously injured, but many had lacerations and contusions from being bounced around in their homes, or from flying debris.

Four school buses were destroyed. Thousands of trees were uprooted or snapped off.  

The Kennedy Home in Washington Twp (Allenwood RD)

The Kennedy Cider Press
Later, the wheel from the press, which survived the storm unscathed, was stolen.

 35 farms were heavily damaged or destroyed, and farm machinery was destroyed. 12 cows were killed.

The Grange Hall was completely destroyed

Eleanor Taylor,  was literally picked up and thrown through the air by the winds of the storm that evening. She had driven to her stepmothers house that evening, in what she thought was a really severe storm.  She recalls that she could barely open the door when she arrived.  The power went out, and the Eleanor went to get a kerosene lamp, but she does not remember anything after that.  The winds from the storm crashed into the home and carried both women away. Thelma would later die from her injuries.  Eleanor was knocked unconscious, and spent three days in a coma.  She was in the hospital for three weeks.  But she survived.

Ruth Stumbaugh was also blown from her home, when her mobile home near Montgomery was torn apart. She landed on her mattress 25 feet away, and was able to find her flashlight to signal for help. Stumbaugh said she felt like Auntie Em in the Wizard of Oz.

The Charles Fenstamacher Home

One man wrapped  himself in a mattress in the hallway of the trailer and got ready for the ride of his life. His trailer was picked up and spun before it landed again, almost right on it's foundation.  Another family put their children in the dryer, and then leaned in front of the machine covered in clothes baskets.

Bastian Home in Dewart Pa

At the Drick farm, the  barn  was swept from its foundation, and the silo roof and a section of  the house roof were gone.

The Lynch Farm

At the Lynch farm, the old brick farmhouse had a big gaping hole in it. It was off its foundation, and the  barn had collapsed on the cows. Farm equipment was scattered across the road. 

The roof was blown off of the home of Glenn Burkhard, and the trees were snapped.

The historic Pike’s Peak one-room school house lost its roof. Renovo's fire tower was twisted like a pretzel. Four 24 foot billboards and  two trailers were never found.

In Elimsport, more than 100 baled stacked hay stood neatly stacked, with the barn that had stood around them completely gone. 

At Eagle Enterprise, along 54 towards Turbotville

Note - Our farm is located not far from Eagle Enterprises, and just a mile and a half from the Spring Lake Village trailer court.  My husband grew up in this house, so I asked him if he remembered the storm.  His family was in McEwensville that night, at his grandmothers house.  What he remembers is that he didn't get to see the end of Miami Vice - the power went out.  :-)  He doesn't remember any damage at all here on the farm, but he does remember viewing the damage all around the area, the next day.

Gov. Dick Thornburgh declared the three counties a disaster area, and the Pennsylvania National Guard was brought in.

 "In Elimsport and the surrounding communities, where 5 died and damage was in the millions of dollars, the local people were taking care of their own."

The Red Cross set up two emergency shelters in Elimsport, but they remained virtually empty, serving only two people.  Eighty five homes had been destroyed, and 146 more were damaged.

Wedding parties donated their reception meals, and local companies sent thousands of dollars worth of food an soda. A church group donated 100 spaghetti dinners.

A group of Amish from Lancaster came and volunteered with clean up, and rebuilding.
Barns that had been flattened by the storm were rebuilt within days by Amish men and others.

The twisters cleared a path 12 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide, causing $10 million in damages in northern Northumberland County and $2 million in Union County.
Neighbors and Amish from Lancaster rebuild the barn on the Ivan Farley farm in the White Deer Valley.  Farley lost his barn, house, and four school buses in the twister.

Boy Scout Troop 40 from Elimsport, and Scout Troop 70 of Picture Rocks, often camped, and participated in activities together.  So when the families from Troop 40 were effected by the Tornado, Troop 70 got permission from the East Lycoming School district to spend the day in Washington Twp, helping with clean up, and bringing donations.


Those who died were Donna Marie Fenstermacher, 12, and Mildred Bieber, 78, both of RD1 Watsontown; Miriam Wagner, of Milton; and Mae Koser, 86, Thelma Taylor, 69, and Kelly Aucker, 11, all of RD1 Allenwood, The Daily Item reported at the time.
Wagner and her husband, Clyde, were injured when their trailer was blown over at the Hidden Creek Camp Sites north of Allenwood in Gregg Township, Union County. Mrs. Wagner died later in the hospital. Bieber died of a heart attack related to the storm.


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1 comment:

  1. Bastian Home, This is my Aunt Joan's home! The little 11yr old, Kelly Acker. She was the daughter of a friend of mine. Her Father did a while later in a truck accident (he was a truck driver). Some friends of his firmly believe that he died intentionally. He couldn't handle the fact that his only child died. Letting on that way.


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