Late afternoon Tuesday, May 28, an EF2 tornado raged through Caernarvon Township in southern Berks County with a direct hit in the area of Mast Road, the Twin Ponds Development and Quarry View Road.
Extensive cleanup is still in progress with boots on the ground throughout the township. Citizens, businesses, churches and officials responded en mass to the tragedy.
“The warning came through my cellphone to shelter in place!” said Caernarvon Township Administrator Joan Bair. “I was working at the township building, 3307 Main St., Morgantown. A short time after the storm passed, Township Supervisor Sandy Styer called me saying a tornado had touched down and emergency personnel were responding.”
An action plan was quickly put into place, as responding EMS briefed township supervisors.
Supervisors' Chairman Allen Styer III signed an official proclamation declaring the township in a State of Disaster Emergency, granting them power of control to protect the welfare and safety of Caernarvon Township.
“I live just a few miles away,” said Rep. Mark Gillen. “I heard what sounded like a freight train roaring through the thunderous downpour of hail and lightning. When the warning came, shelter immediately, you know it is to protect life and injury.”
Twin Valley and Honey Brook fire companies, along with municipal police, immediately responded to help with entrapment, injuries and danger.
Falling wires, gas leaks, lighting strikes, panicked escaped farm animals, wind damage, flying debris, and large uprooted trees that had been thrown wildly in the air smashing buildings, parked vehicles, equipment and buildings were priority.
Utility companies responded quickly to loss of power, water, downed lines, and gas leaks while preforming emergency checks. Fortunately, no gas leaks occurred.
“The next day, I was on the scene joining Caernarvon Township Supervisor Paul Whiteman Jr. and other Caernarvon Township supervisors as well as Berks and Chester County officials,” said Gillen.
“It was heartwarming to see the camaraderie of everyday citizens and business people responding. This is a seminal event in the lives of these people that they will never forget,” he said, “lots of care, lots of love, no loss of life or serious injury, we thank God.”
News media from Philadelphia, Reading, and Lancaster were on the ground while drones and helicopters circled in the air.
At daybreak, roofing and restoration companies’ trucks streamed in on roads along with crews from Lowe's, Home Depot, and other contractors and insurance adjusters responding quickly to the disaster.
New Castle Landscaping crews were handing out Rita’s Water Ice, while chainsaws fought trees with raw roots exposed and mangled branches everywhere. Other landscape contractors, volunteers, Amish men and youth collected, cut, and chipped branches, brush and debris.
The land around Mast Road was a tangle of mature black walnut and locust trees lost forever. Extensive damage to cars, roofs, siding and fencing around the Valley Ponds community not far from Route 23 was raw.
“We were glad to help, as part of the Morgantown Community,” said Angela Ensor from Lowe's. “Tuesday night we were helping people and contractors coming in for supplies to shore up and cover houses. Wednesday morning store manager, Dawn Madera, started reaching out by phone to our corporate distribution center for a truck of supplies, to surrounding stores for more skids of water, and to local restaurants for donations of snacks and food.”
“Volunteers from our store and other nearby Lowe's loaded up at our store and with direction from the township set up on Lexington Way, the hardest hit destruction site. We partnered with McDonald's and AJ's setting up a crew of volunteers cutting trees, distributing water and cleanup supplies and helping with the raking and bagging of debris. They were back at it again at 9 the next morning. Four skids of mulch helped fix the playground. I was at the store keeping it all going,” she added.
Erika Kanter, who runs Anchored by Grace Ministry, a Ministry of Morgantown Community Church, said as the church gathered a group to go around and help the town clean up, Anchored had a team assemble sandwiches, snacks, and cold water and drove around handing out to anyone and everyone cleaning up. Later they took a full dinner to Twin Valley Fire Department to thank them for their work in the community and through the storms.
“It’s so amazing the way everyone comes together when there’s a need!”
Meanwhile, Gillen contacted Gov. Tom Wolf and David R. Padfield, PA Federal Emergency Management Agency Director, who partners with FEMA.
Gillen walked the storm destruction with National Weather Service officials Chad Shafer and Trent Davis from Mount Holly, N.J., as they determined the strength and path of the storm.
Their assessment: The tornado touched down west of Morgantown in a field owned by Paul and Reuben Stoltzfus where they operated a turkey farm, just north of Mast Corn Maze. The storm continued South East for 2.6 miles ending just east of the Morgantown Industrial Park in the area of South Twin Valley Road.
Although all areas received damage, the hardest hit was the area of Mast Road and the Briarcrest and Valley Ponds Development. Here, the tornado reached its widest point of up to 1,500 feet wide.
"That analysis is ongoing. FEMA tells me they're still evaluating the situation,” said Gillen. “If they don’t reach their thresholds, I will help through legislation.”
Through personal experience when a previous storm destroyed his barn roof, he learned storm damage cannot always be identified immediately, things shift and change. It is a process that can take months to clean up and heal.
Using his own chainsaw, some trees had fallen dangerously, Gillen said, “My heart goes out to these people, losing those mature trees. Property damage like this is very disturbing and creates anxiety and new storms are approaching."
The township posted on their website that the overwhelming response from the community included those expressing interest to donate funds to help offset costs for the cleanup and for those in need. Requesting those who want to send monetary donations to the township, please include a letter addressed to the Board of Supervisors and explain how you want your donation to be used.
For help contact the Red Cross 24-hour Hotline 1-800-RED-CROSS. Dial 211 (United Way) for more information about resources including shelter and housing.
If your home, business or property was affected by the tornado and you did not see someone from Caernarvon Township or Berks County DES, contact the township office at 610-286-1010.
From the Caernarvon Township Emergency Management Coordinator:
“I would like to thank all of the individuals, non-profits, church organizations, businesses, Fire, Police and EMS that stepped up and helped out. The outpouring of donations and volunteers is and was overwhelming. I'm proud to be a part of this community we call Morgantown.”