PARKERSBURG - National Weather Service teams Friday were dispatched to Belleville and The Plains in Athens County to confirm reported tornado touchdowns during Thursday night's storm.
"It was a complex of things. It started in Ohio and worked its way into Wood County. The main storm started in Athens and Meigs (counties), coming across the river at Belleville and made a straight line through Rockport into Wirt County. The most damage was sustained in Wood County between the Belleville and Rockport areas," said meteorologist John Sikora.
"Athens County reported a tornado in The Plains, which hit the high school and a mobile park. We are sending teams out today, but it looks like a definite touchdown; our teams will confirm," Sikora said Friday. "There was one fatality in the Belleville area. The storm systems continued all the way through West Virginia. The farther east you got, the lesser the impact," Sikora said.
Killed in Belleville was Larry J. Freeman, 57, Belleville, whose body was found in a field about 300 feet from his house after helping his wife to safety in a basement, Wood County Coroner Mike St. Clair said.
About a dozen people have been sent to hospitals in Parkersburg and Athens.
The Red Cross set up a shelter at the main station of the Lubeck Volunteer Fire Department, Red Cross spokesman Sharon Kesselring said. Anyone attempting to make contact with relatives or friends in the Belleville area since the tornado or needs emergency crews to check on someone can call 304-485-8501, or 911 if it's an emergency.
Photo by Jody Murphy
Trucks lie scattered beside the road in Belleville in the aftermath of a Thursday tornado that killed one man and sent others to the hospital.
West Virginia 68 was closed between Pond Creek and Middle Fork until further notice. Wood County 911 Director Randy Lowe said crews were hoping to reopen the roadway later Friday.
"There were a lot of downed power and phone lines across the road, they had to get those cleaned before it would be safe to pass through. It was so dark when the storm hit it was difficult to fully assess the area, as of early Friday they are calling all the public safety agencies and their crews to assist in assessing the area," Lowe said.
Wood County Commissioner Rick Modesitt went to the Belleville area late Thursday. He said the Wood County Mobile Command Center was already on site and in full operation.
"Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with those who are suffering in the Belleville community. Extensive emergency crews were on site, looking for those who might be injured as well as surveying damage," Modesitt said.
Modesitt said the county commissioners would determine if there is any need for an emergency meeting to allocate cleanup funds. Firefighters from all surrounding departments were on scene, including a unit from Jackson County, Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph Ambulance services; Red Cross; Department of Natural Resources officer; Wood County Sheriffs Department; West Virginia State Police; 911 Emergency Command Post; the power company, and Department of Highways.
Emergency officials reported about 11 homes damaged in the storm, the damages and injuries were being assessed.
According to Athens County emergency officials, the storm did significant damage in The Plains to the Pine-Air Village Trailer Park, with several trailers overturned and numerous trees down. Evacuation was underway due to a gas line leak.
Athens High School, located in The Plains, sustained damage and 40 students were sheltered during the storm. The high school stadium was heavily damaged.
Johnson Road was closed between Ohio 682 and the high school for nearly two hours Thursday evening while road crews removed debris. The nearby Athens Messenger buildings also reported damage due to the storm. In the city of Athens, the Autotech on East State Street was leveled by the storm, no injuries were reported, according to Athens County Emergency officials.
The weather service confirmed a tornado occurred in Nelsonville where 15 homes were destroyed by storms, three people were taken to medical facilities and there were numerous road closures. About 200 residents were in need of shelter.