Friday marks 1-year anniversary of Hempfield Twp. tornado

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HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP, Pa. —

Friday marked the one year anniversary of an EF2 tornado that caused massive damage to homes and businesses in Westmoreland County.

The March 23, 2011, storm packed 120 mph winds and had a path of destruction up to seven miles long, according to the National Weather Service.

The tornado destroyed 30 homes and damaged 90 others. Despite the power of the storm, no one was hurt.

Hempfield Township High School was among the buildings damaged in the storm, forcing the school to move its graduation ceremony.

Linda Comm, the musical director, was inside the school when the tornado struck.

“One of our moms came running in and said, ‘There's a tornado over the high school," said Comm.

Comm and 55 students were practicing for the spring musical as the tornado barreled towards the school’s auditorium.

“We grabbed all the kids. We had about 30 seconds to get them out of the outside, out of the lobby, out of mini theater and down under the stage,” said Comm.

The funnel cloud ripped off the roof, but not before it demolished part of the school’s stadium, toppling the scoreboard and light posts. 

“The power went out immediately and there are no windows down there, and it was instantly black. This is a whole group of drama students, so you can imagine, they had a strong reaction,” Comm said chuckling.

For the past year, residents in that area have been working to restore what was damaged in the storm.