BELLEVILLE, W.Va. _ One person was killed Thursday night when severe thunderstorms and winds swept through southern Wood County, ripping down power lines, overturning vehicles and leveling homes along W.Va. 68, a quarter mile south of the Belleville Homecoming grounds.
Wood County Coroner Mike St. Clair this morning said the body of Larry J. Freeman, 57, Belleville, was found in a field about 300 feet from his house where he made sure his wife, Sandra, and their dog got in the basement of the home where they were safe. He did not make it into the basement, St. Clair said.
"His last act was assisting his wife and dog," St. Clair said.
Special to the Times
Storm damage in the Belleville, W.Va., area Thursday night.
The Freeman home at 11175 Harris Highway, W.Va. 68, was destroyed, he said.
Wood County 911 center set up its mobile command unit near the former Humphrey School, which was being used as a triage center.
"We have one confirmed fatality right now, and the coroner has been called out," said Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy. "There is about a half-mile sweep of devastation we are just beginning to go through. Homes have been leveled to the ground. You would not believe the wreckage."
A spokesman at the National Weather Service in Charleston said it won't be known if a tornado struck Belleville until agency officials visit southern Wood County today.
The storm produced powerful winds with tornadic characteristics on the radar but damage patterns must be checked before a determination can be made, said NWS meteorologist Ken McGrath. He was unsure of wind speeds in the area at the time of the storm.
Athens County also was hit hard by the storm, which leveled buildings and homes.
Allegheny Power responded to the scene around 10 p.m. to cut the power to allow crews access to the homes along W.Va. 68. Emergency personnel responded to the scene at 8 p.m.
"Families have been gathering over at the school. Some of them have lost their homes, and are just devastated by the damage," said Sandy.
Around 11 p.m., around six people had been treated by EMTs from Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital for cuts and scrapes at the triage station, said Lubeck Fire Chief Mark Stewart.
The main area of Belleville affected by the storm was within a mile radius, from River Lane on W.Va. 68 to Lee Creek and Robinhood Road, said Stewart. W.Va. 68 was blocked from both the north and south.
"It's almost pitch black here. We've been using the light from the fire trucks to help us out," he said. "Basically we've been reorganizing our crews, trying to get in there and make a count of damages and find any injured people."
Responding agencies included Wood County Sheriff's Office, West Virginia State Police, Division of Natural Resources, American Red Cross, the Wood County 911 mobile unit, as well as Lubeck, Pond Creek, Blennerhassett, Vienna and Washington Bottom volunteer fire departments.
Power lines and mobile concession stand units set up for Belleville Homecoming were strewn along the campgrounds. The area was dark, with the only light coming from a backup generator set up at the former Humphrey School and lights from emergency vehicles.
Tom Morehead lives in a trailer on the Belleville Homecoming grounds. He witnessed the windstorm and took shelter in the school about 100 yards from his residence.
"I was sitting in my trailer watching television, and I started seeing sparks up on the hillside," he said. "I ran for my truck, but when I started seeing debris flying up into the air, I jumped out of my truck and ran for the school."
Morehead suffered no injuries, but was treated by a nurse inside the school.
"I have no idea if my trailer is still sitting there. It could be smashed; it could have blown away," said Morehead.
Allegheny Power reported 783 customers were without power Thursday evening in Wood County.
According to a news release from Athens County Emergency Communications, the path of the storm did significant damage to the Pine-Air Village Trailer Park in The Plains, as well as Athens High School, where 40 students were sheltered during the storm. The school's Basil Rutter Field reportedly sustained heavy damage.
The Autotech facility in the city of Athens was leveled by the storm, the release says. No injuries were reported at the site.
Fifteen homes were reported destroyed in the city of Nelsonville in Athens County, and three people were taken to medical facilities.
The Nelsonville Fire Department was performing house-to-house searches.
At least seven people were transported to O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens. Approximately 200 people were in need of shelter.