WILKES-BARRE TWP. — As he walked around the Arena Hub Plaza on Friday afternoon, Robert Tamburro was trying to put everything in perspective.
Tamburro, trustee and general partner of TFP Limited — owners of the Arena Hub Plaza — said many of his tenant businesses were severely damaged by Wednesday night’s EF2 tornado, which packed winds of up to 130 mph.
He owns the buildings that house Dick’s Sporting Goods, TJ Maxx, Barnes & Noble, Staples, PetSmart and Carter’s/Osh Kosh — none have been condemned, but all are currently listed as unsafe. He also owns office buildings nearby that incurred severe damage.
“Everything in life is a process,” Tamburro said as he watched workers clearing buildings. “We can’t get this done overnight. We have to do what we can every day. We have to keep getting first downs until we cross the goal line.”
Tamburro said the main objective is to keep everything safe.
“We have to break it down into small steps,” he said.
Tamburro has hired Belfor Property Restoration to do the cleanup of his buildings. Ray Felix, project manager for Belfor’s business division, said the company has done similar work throughout the world. He said Belfor has 90 workers on-site working 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. shifts.
“Our main goal is to get the tenants back in as soon as possible,” Felix said. “There’s a lot of damage here — a lot of debris around. Right now we are getting the buildings safe to enter and securing them with fencing and removing all hazardous materials.”
Felix and Patrick Messner of Belfor said representatives of the company and tenants have been at the site to assess the damage. He said they are trying to determine what merchandise can be salvaged.
In another plaza nearby, the task had turned from salvation to condemnation.
Dave May, of Wyoming-based Evergreen Co., had a crew of about 12 working on a group of buildings that were most severely damaged and have been condemned — Panera Bread, Tovan & Co., America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses and others. He said the crew had been clearing debris and ridding the parking lots of glass and nails.
“We’re also boarding up the buildings to keep them safe,” May said. And we will be putting up security fencing to assure nobody accesses them.”
Mundy Street reopened
Mundy Street reopened to traffic Friday evening, officials said. Township Police Chief Ron Smith urged motorists to be careful as they traveled near the site.
The news came as construction crews continued cleaning up tornado debris at shopping centers including Arena Hub Plaza and neighboring properties.
Even with the road open, those storm-affected properties remain closed — with some facing the wrecking ball due to the extent of damage from Wednesday night’s tornado.
Eight buildings have been condemned and 14 are listed as unsafe, officials said Friday.
Smith said he could not yet put a dollar amount on the damage caused by the store, but said he expects it to exceed the $18 million threshold required to seek federal funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
What’s condemned, unsafe
According to police, the condemned buildings housed the following businesses:
Panera Bread , Tovan & Co., America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, LA Nails, Sneaker King, U-Haul main building, Famous Footwear, and Kurlancheek Furniture.
Temporarily unsafe properties are: TJ Maxx, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Barnes & Noble, Carter’s/OshKosh B’gosh, Staples, PetSmart, 100 Commerce Boulevard, Polish Pottery, TGL Engineering, Music-Go-Round, Ashley Furniture, U-Haul Storage, Stations Grill and Sprint Cellular.
Wico van Genderen, president/CEO at the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, said he is reaching out to offer resources and assistance to businesses affected by the storm damage.
“There may be public support and funding available to assist with repairs and restoration,” van Genderen said.
For more information, van Genderen said to contact the chamber at 570-408-1728 or via email at [email protected] for assistance.
“As a chamber, we are so sorry and saddened to see the severe damage done to our chamber member businesses in those areas afflicted and we want to help in any way to rebuild, repair and restore your business to get you back on your feet,” van Genderen said.
Chief Smith said three individuals were arrested Thursday night and charged with trespassing.
“We did arrest three individuals, and they have been charged and will be prosecuted,” Smith said. “We will increase patrols on the site tonight, and I urge everyone to stay away. Anyone trespassing will be arrested, charged and prosecuted. We are not messing around with this. We have a lot of unsafe conditions, and we need people to stay away to allow the business owners and contractors to do their jobs.”
Smith discounted several rumors that have been circulated about merchandise from some of the stores falling into criminal hands.
“All of the weapons from Dick’s Sporting Goods have been accounted for,” Smith said. “And the diamonds from Tovan & Co. were also secured. So don’t expect to find any diamonds in any of the parking lots up here.”
Smith said power has been restored in the area and he was waiting to hear when gas service would also be restored to allow businesses untouched by the tornado to reopen. The Wyoming Valley Mall reopened Friday at 10 a.m.
Amanda Hoprich, spokesperson for Preit, owners of the mall, said: “We are happy to open up our available space for temporary leasing. However, it’s so early in the stages of assessment we cannot really speak to contacts on this yet.”
Alana Roberts, regional affairs director for PPL, said all businesses seeking to reopen must first undergo an inspection before being re-energized. She said the mall power was restored at 11:30 p.m. Thursday and power feeding the rest of the area was re-booted at 4:30 a.m. Friday.
Smith said he has been with some of the business owners when they were allowed to return to assess the damage at their stores. He said he could see the disappointment and shock on their faces.
“Some of these businesses have been here for a long time,” Smith said. “And it will be a long time before they can reopen. To see the devastation, I can only say I feel sorry for all of them.”
Smith said he has seen the business community coming together to help one another in the wake of the storm.
“I can say without a doubt that there are a lot of caring individuals out there,” Smith said.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.