WILKES-BARRE TWP. — National Weather Service officials are headed to the area to survey damage from Wednesday night’s storm, which tore apart buildings in and around the Arena Hub Plaza and trapped terrified workers.
The NWS will determine if the storm that caused so much damage so quickly was, indeed, a tornado. They will base that decision off study of the debris pattern and other factors.
Workers from the NWS office in Binghamton, New York, are expected to be in the area from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the agency says.
They are expected to release a statement by late Thursday afternoon.
It was not clear whether any serious injuries were reported by 1:30 a.m. Thursday, about three-and-a-half hours after the storm struck at 10 p.m.
However, Red Cross regional spokesman Dave Skutnik tweeted early Thursday that he was only hearing about a “few minor injuries so far.”
Skutnik said local Red Cross crews were staged on Mundy Street “to support first responders as they sweep damaged buildings.”
Here is what we do know:
• Wilkes-Barre Township police reported multiple damaged buildings in the area of Mundy Street. Drivers were asked to avoid the Wyoming Valley Mall and surrounding area. Only emergency personnel would be allowed access.
• More than 7,200 PPL Electric customers were without power at midnight.
• Seriously damaged properties included Panera Bread and an adjacent strip mall, Smokey Bones restaurant, Ken Pollack Nissan and the U-Haul store.
• Ashley Furniture and Barnes & Noble appeared to have suffered extensive structural damage.
• There also were unconfirmed reports of looting in some stores, as well as a strong odor of gas in the area of Barnes & Noble.
Bruno Isles, a worker at Panera, described the horror as the storm bore down.
“I was washing dishes in the back, my manager had us secure the doors,” Isles said. “We had tables and chairs flying through the windows.”
Isles suffered a minor scrape on his arm in the process of shepherding others to safety.
He said women were stuck in a walk-in fridge when “water started to set in.”
Isles and another man helped them escape.
“I helped another man over the counter,” Isles said. “We just waited for the police and fire to come.”
The incident drew emergency crews from around Luzerne County, including police, fire and ambulance.
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