Storms knock out power, ignite gas well tank

Power restored to most by evening; heavy rain, high wind could hit region again today

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Thunderstorms across Southwestern Pennsylvania Wednesday afternoon left thousands without power, and lightning caused a fire at a gas tank in Westmoreland County.

Duquesne Light reported about 1,700 customers in the Pittsburgh area were without power as of 10 p.m. Power had earlier been restored to more than 16,000 customers, with the rest expected to be back online by this afternoon.

Wednesday afternoon, West Penn and Penn Power reported close to 6,900 customers without power in Westmoreland County, more than 2,500 outages in Allegheny and another 690 in Butler. Just before 11 p.m., about 200 were still affected in each of Allegheny, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties, according to FirstEnergy's website. FirstEnergy operates West Penn and Penn Power.

In Derry Township, a lightning strike sparked a fire in a condensate tank at a non-Marcellus Shale CNX gas well near the intersection of state Route 982 and Laughlin Farm Road.

The 500-gallon fiberglass tank was struck about 3:30 p.m., according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, causing a fire that burned for an hour, melting the tank and causing a spill of about 440 gallons of oily "wet gases."

The Westmoreland County hazardous materials team used foam designed for gas fires to quell the 10-foot flames. Crews then let the fire burn itself out. Nearby residents were not affected by the fire, Westmoreland County emergency management spokesman Dan Stevens said.

The spilled gas was contained by a dike around the tank. DEP inspectors plan to visit the site this morning.

Around the region, an operator at Beaver County emergency services said that power lines reported down in and around Midland, Shippingport and Hanover had been repaired by 4 p.m. A shift commander at the Allegheny County emergency dispatch said he had received reports of fallen tree limbs and telephone poles struck by lightning, but no serious incidents.

In Pittsburgh, public works crews worked to remove several trees that the stormed had downed, including one that blocked traffic at Bigelow Boulevard and Herron Avenue, said Kevin Quigley, the department's assistant director.

Many people taking lunch breaks Downtown were not expecting the downpour; thousands scurried to find any available shelter.

At the CVS pharmacy on Forbes Avenue, a clerk scrambled to restock a shelf that was quickly stripped bare of its supply of umbrellas. She gave up and just started handing them straight out of the shipping boxes to dozens of waiting customers.

Heavy rain and high wind could hit Pittsburgh again today, said Pat Herald, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The humidity will linger, but temperatures will drop into the mid-80s, he said.

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Staff writer Don Hopey contributed. Marcus Schwarz:


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