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Storms bring down trees, cut power

A line of fast-moving thunderstorms sliced through the area Wednesday afternoon, downing trees onto wires, roads, porch roofs — and in one case in Altoona, a stopped car whose occupant narrowly escaped serious injury or death.

The northeasterly flowing storms grew “tall in the atmosphere” from heat and humidity, and their straight-line winds gusted from 50 to 65 mph, according to meteorologist Barry Lambert of the National Weather Service office in State College.

Almost 4,000 customers in Blair County were without power as of 10 p.m. Wednesday, while about 10,000 customers in Cambria County lost power at the height of the storm, according to Penelec spokesman Todd Meyers.

The Blair County 911 Center dispatched the Altoona Fire Department on 40 service calls, including one for a driver who’d been waiting on First Avenue at 17th Street for the light to change, when a large limb broke off a tree and plunged into the roof of her car, depressing it 30 inches, just to the back of her neck and blowing out the rear window and a side window, according to Altoona Fire Chief Tim Hileman.

The driver waited in the car afterward for fear that live wires were down nearby — although they weren’t — until firefighters arrived and helped her out, Hileman said.

“She was very lucky,” Hileman said.

The storm felled 28 trees onto streets, power lines and a couple of porches that collapsed in the city, according to Hileman.

Areas where the problems were most numerous were on the east side of the mainline tracks, especially in the Valley View area, according to Hileman.

Lightning struck a house on Sixth Street and Fifth Avenue, probably hitting the chimney and traveling down the electric service line to the panel box, Hileman said.

But it didn’t cause damage, because the properly grounded box conducted the charge safely into the ground, Hileman said.

“Everything was done to code,” the chief said. “If it was not up to code, (the house) would have burned down.”

The storm snapped an aluminum flagpole in half, according to Lambert, citing reports that came into the NWS office.

The Blair County customers still without service late Wednesday evening included 1,400 in Antis Township and 894 in Snyder Township, according to Meyers.

Despite the high number of Cambria County customers out of service at the peak of the storm, only about 2,600 were out of service by 10 p.m. Wednesday, Meyers said.

Penelec crews were assessing damage and preparing to work through the night on service restoration, Meyers said.

They’ll work 16 hours on and eight hours off until service for all customers is restored, he said.

The storm downed as many as 50 trees on the Sinking Valley Country Club course, leading the club to plead for volunteers, especially those with chainsaws, to clean it up today, so the club could hold a planned “Best Ball” event Friday through Sunday.

Many of the downed trees are large, according to club pro Troy Monahan, who sent the plea via an emailed newsletter to club members.

The club canceled today’s practice round, Meyers said.

He hopes to get 50 or 60 people for the cleanup.

“It was a shot in the dark at 9 p.m. Wednesday night,” Monahan said of the newsletter plea.

Monahan was good-humored about what happened, laughing about the possibility that there will be tree hazards, as well as water hazards and sand traps for the weekend’s 200-plus participants.

“We’re not going to get everything cleaned up,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer

William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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