Storm's damaging winds wreak havoc

Toppled trees down power lines, leaving hundreds without power for hours

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An intense storm blackened the skies above Pittsburgh Wednesday afternoon before releasing a fury of rain, lightning and swift winds that toppled trees and power lines across the region, leaving more than 82,000 households and businesses in the area without power.

At its peak, Duquesne Light reported 52,000 customers were without power. Allegheny Power said 14,000 of its customers in Washington County and an additional 16,000 in Westmoreland County were in the dark.

As of 10 p.m., 23,000 Duquesne customers still remained without service.

The storm, which lasted about two hours, dropped just a smidgen of rain -- around 1 inch -- but lightning and whipping winds wrought havoc on the region. The National Weather Service measured wind gusts of 48 mph at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin.

"Rainfall wasn't the major problem," said meteorologist Brad Rehak of the National Weather Service.

The winds knocked over trees across the region, striking power lines. And lightning struck the steeple of a South Side church that now houses office buildings, toppling it.

City public works director Rob Kaczorowski said crews were working to remove about 40 downed trees and branches across the city. About half involved branches that fell on power lines. He said the vast majority were in the South Hills neighborhoods.

"Banksville got hit pretty good," he said.

Duquesne Light reported outages were concentrated in Baldwin, Carnegie, Carrick, Castle Shannon, Dormont, Mt. Lebanon, Banksville, Beechview, Beltzhoover, Brookline and Scott.

City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak was among the many Carrick residents who lost power. She said she heard from several residents reporting storm damage.

"The South Hills took the brunt of the storm," she said.

The outages also affected roadways. Lights on the Parkway West were out from the Fort Pitt Tunnels to the Carnegie exit as late as 9 Wednesday night. And during the day, traffic lights were out on Route 51 from Route 88 to Brownsville Road in the South Hills and the entire length of Banksville Road.

The storms also halted light-rail service right before rush hour, leaving many commuters stranded.

"[We had] trees on the tracks, we had trees on the wires, and, complicating things ... we had lightning hit a communication tower," Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.

The tower was out for a period of time, preventing Port Authority from sending out audio alerts to its riders at T stations alerting them of delays.

T service was back up by 8 p.m., though there were still delays in service as trains were put back on line.

Then, almost as quickly as it came, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, revealing a crisp sky.

Today, the National Weather Service forecasts a mostly sunny day with highs in the upper 80s, with only a touch of fog in the morning.

Staff writer Jon Schmitz contributed. Moriah Balingit: or 412-263-2533.


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