WILKES-BARRE TWP. — It was a tornado.
Dave Nicosia of the National Weather Service told reporters this afternoon that Wednesday’s intense storm was a twister, but it will be a few hours still before more details about the twister are known.
“In my career? Yes, the worst I’ve ever seen,” Nicosia said during a press conference, noting that he has spent 27 years with the weather service.”
Six people reportedly suffered injures as a result of Wednesday night’s storm, township Mayor Carl Kuren confirmed this morning, while officials are assessing whether some buildings may need to be demolished.
Also, Gov. Tom Wolf will tour the site of Wednesday’s storm damage with Pennsylvania Emergency Management Director Rick Flinn at 1:30 p.m. today.
Following the tour, the governor will hold a press conference, officials said.
The storm ripped through the Arena Hub shopping plaza and surrounding areas at about 10 p.m. The National Weather Service will be conducting a survey between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to determine if a tornado did touch down.
There were several storm-related injuries seen in the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Emergency Department Wednesday night, but all patients were treated and released, spokeswoman Alysha Davis said.
Two emergency medicine physicians, Dr. David Schoenwetter and Dr. Brian Saracino, were on scene overnight.
“Had the storm happened during rush hour or an hour earlier, the damage and injuries could have been a lot worse,” Red Cross Executive Director Bill Goldsworthy said.
“We would have had many, many more casualties,” the mayor said.
Engineers are doing a structural assessment on structures in the plaza, said Stan Davis of the Keystone Incident Management Team is working with the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency to assess the conditions of buildings, and it’s expected some may have to be torn down.
“Many of the buildings got some damage, some buildings received significant damage,” Davis said.
The roof of the building that houses Panera Bread was ripped open, for example.
Wilkes-Barre Township Police Chief Ron Smith said part of the store signage from Dick’s was found miles away in Bear Creek.
Here is else what you need to know:
• Wilkes-Barre Township police have closed off Mundy Street between Bear Creek Boulevard and Highland Park Blvd due to storm damage.
• Police say drivers will be subject to a citation if they stop on the shoulder of I-81 South to observe the storm damage.
• To avoid congestion, Pennsylvania State Police and Wilkes-Barre Township Police will conduct regular checks of the area.
• The Wyoming Valley Mall will be closed for the day due to power outages from the storm.
In a press release sent out by the mall, it said there were no significant structural damages to the mall and its thoughts go out to the businesses, employees and shoppers effected by the damage at the Arena Hub Plaza.
• Pets were safely rescued from two pet stores in the area.
• Smith said all buildings have been searched and no people were found entrapped.
The American Red Cross has been providing aid and guidance to first responders on the scene.
“As usual, when anything happens the Red Cross is there,” Goldsworthy said.
“We will be there all day,” Goldsworthy said. “We are setting up by the Smokey Bones providing nourishment to the first responders.”
• In response to the storm, a previously scheduled Geisinger community event with President and CEO Dr. David T. Feinberg in Wilkes-Barre has been canceled. All food from the event will be donated to first responders working at the scene.
• Geisinger Foundation will be making a charitable contribution to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts.
Smith offered thanks to everyone who has offered food and support for police and first responders.