WILKES-BARRE TWP. — State Sen. John Yudichak called it “the miracle on Mundy Street.”
Yudichak was referring to Wednesday night’s storm — classified as an EF-2 tornado — that damaged several buildings along Mundy Street and in the Arena Hub Plaza.
The “miracle,” as Yudichak called it, was that nobody was killed and just six people suffered minor injuries. In addition, there were no reports of damaged residential structures.
Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, toured the area Thursday afternoon with Gov. Tom Wolf, who heaped praise on emergency responders and volunteers who donated food and water, calling them all “heroes.”
“Touring the tornado damage today in Wilkes-Barre Township with Gov. Wolf and (Wilkes-Barre Township) Mayor Carl Kuren, I cannot help but be profoundly grateful that there was no loss of life or serious personal injuries,” Yudichak said.
The lawmaker said he was near the tornado corridor Wednesday night with his family, watching his oldest daughter play field hockey at the King’s College athletic fields on Highland Park Boulevard, about a mile away. Yudichak said the games were called off around 9:30 p.m., and the tornado touched down about 10 p.m., after the families safely vacated the area.
“You have to think of it as the miracle on Mundy Street when you consider that the area where the tornado hit is generally populated with thousands of employees, customers, and hundreds of young athletes,” Yudichak said. “Our job now, at all levels of government, is to quickly work with the damaged businesses and help them rebuild so we can get every displaced worker back to work and our economy growing again.”
Wolf walked through the affected area, stopping to look at the damage before holding a news conference on Mundy Street with Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Rick Flinn, Luzerne County Emergency Management Director Lucy Morgan, state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski and Yudichak.
“I’m here to take a look at the area and to share the concern of every Pennsylvanian for all affected by this powerful storm,” Wolf said. “The fact that so few people were hurt is a miracle. It is fortunate that their were no fatalities and six people suffered minor injuries.”
Wolf praised the efforts of emergency responders who put in long hours to assure the safety of the area and to assist throughout the night.
Wolf and Flinn said the process of assessing the amount of damage has begun. He said if the damage reaches the federal threshold — $18 million — he will contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency to apply for funding.
“Our first task was to assure that everyone was safe,” Wolf said. “Now we will see if we qualify for federal aid or not.”
Wolf said he will do what he can to help all those affected to get back on their feet as soon as possible.
“This has been a whole community response,” he said. “And that is critical for success.”
A half-mile radius around the damage site was evacuated earlier Thursday due to a leaking 750-pound propane tank. Officials are using extreme caution to ensure the area is safe before the public is permitted to return.
PEMA is coordinating with the county emergency management agency and the Civil Air Patrol to provide the NWS with aerial reconnaissance information for the assessment. Damage assessments are ongoing to determine the extent of the impact.
Pashinski said dozens of buildings are unsafe for entry following the storm. Pashinski said he spoke with the offices of Gov. Wolf, Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright to inform them of the weather devastation. He said he also reached out to Laurel Run officials and Mayor Kuren to discuss the assessment and recovery operation.
“I met with Mayor Kuren at the municipal building, and we traveled to the disaster site,” Pashinski said. “Emergency personnel have contained the area and are taking safety precautions relative to the damage. We are in the assessment process at this point and will continue the process of determining what buildings are safe to re-enter, the time frame to re-establish electricity and other utilities, as well as internet service.”
Pashinski said while natural disasters can’t be avoided, “We can band together and rebuild from them. I’m positive that’s what Wilkes-Barre Township and the surrounding communities will do.”
For more on Wednesday’s tornado, click here.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.