Pa. mayor declares emergency after storm blows through Wilkes-Barre

The fierce wind storm blew off part of the roof of city hall and left a trail of damage throughout the city

By Eric Mark
The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown declared a state of emergency on Monday after a fierce wind storm blew off part of the roof of city hall and left a trail of damage throughout the city.

"The disaster has endangered the health, safety and welfare of a substantial number of persons and property," Brown wrote in an executive order. "Emergency management measures are required to reduce the severity of this disaster and to protect the safety and welfare of all affected residents."

Read the emergency declaration for the City of Wilke-Barre here.

The storm blew into the region in the early morning hours Monday. Police, firefighters and utility crews responded to numerous reports of downed trees, poles and wires – some of which blocked streets and damaged parked cars and structures.

Thousands of homes and businesses in Luzerne County lost power, though power had been restored to most customers by late Monday afternoon.

Some people were stuck in elevators, according to Brown. Garbage cans rolled along sidewalks on residential streets. Traffic signals malfunctioned and street signs flapped wildly in the wind.

But the damage was perhaps most visible at city hall, a four-story structure at the corner of Washington and Market streets in center city. A portion of the building's roof was gone.

City hall will be closed for two weeks as the damage is repaired, according to Brown.

Until then, the city government will work out of a command center at the city police station, next to city hall, Brown said in a message to city residents issued early Monday evening.

Contractors will begin to repair the roof today, and city hall and its parking lot will be off-limits to everyone as the work proceeds, Brown said.

The repair project will require several road closures to ensure public safety, Brown announced. Closures include:

  • East Market Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Public Square.
  • North Washington Street between Union and East Market streets.
  • State Street between Union and East Market streets.
  • Butler Lane between North Main and North Washington streets.

Wilkes-Barre City Administrator Charles McCormick said he was in his office at city hall when he heard a loud boom at about 8:30 a.m. He said Butch Frati, the city's director of public works, investigated and discovered severe damage to the roof. McCormick said he called Brown and evacuated the building.
Debris, including roofing tiles, blew off the roof and struck a parking garage across the street, according to McCormick. The debris also struck the side of a building at 58-60 Public Square in which M+T Bank and Geisinger Health System have offices, according to a woman who works in the building.

City officials are still assessing the storm damage, according to Brown. All malfunctioning traffic signals should be treated as stop signs, he said. Curbside collection services will proceed as scheduled.

Heavy rain followed the damaging winds, and the county was under several advisories from the National Weather Service throughout the day, including a high wind warning, a wind advisory and a tornado watch.

No tornadoes were reported and the advisory was allowed to expire early.

The storm damaged much of the county and the region. Downed trees temporarily closed roads in the Back Mountain and on the Sans Souci Parkway in Hanover Twp.

Photos showing storm damage were shared on social media. One widely shared photo showed a flower tent in Wilkes-Barre Twp. that became a local icon after it withstood a tornado in June 2018. Monday's wind storm flattened the tent, the photo showed.
©2020 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

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