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Help available for Union Township residents hit by EF2 tornado

Pittsburgh area experiencing unprecedented tornado season
Pittsburgh area experiencing unprecedented tornado season 03:26

FINLEYVILLE, Pa. (KDKA) -- Union Township residents who were hit by an EF2 tornado can now call a phone line for help.

The township says PA 211 is helping Union Township residents, and two national volunteer groups, Team Rubicon and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, are providing their services for free. Starting Tuesday, they'll remove trees, brush and debris from people's properties, the township says. 

"I'm touched by them," Union Township Board of Supervisors chairperson Michalle Dupree said. "Because there is such a widespread need here," Dupree said.

That need only grew Friday night when another tornado struck Elrama in the eastern part of the township. That's two tornadoes in a week.

WATCH: KDKA-TV's Ricky Sayer reports

Help available for Union Township residents hit by EF2 tornado 03:07

Township resident Robert Schallenberger told KDKA-TV that he's thankful for the help, even if he didn't expect it.

Fallen trees litter the ground, while others stand bare on his more than 10-acre property.

"You know, what am I going to do? I'm 82 years old," Schallenberger said. "It's what I call tough duty."

He believes insurance won't cover the cleanup. If he was younger, he thinks he could clear much of the damage up promptly with the tools the equipment he owns.

"Unfortunately, I don't have the stamina anymore," he said. "Already, I've had a double bypass, both carotids cleaned out."  

Schallenberger said he's thankful for the help he'll now receive from the volunteers.

"Oh, definitely. I told them I would be glad to pay them to just get in and help, and they said, 'No, no, it won't cost you anything. If you want to donate, that's okay,' so that's what I'll probably do," Schallenberger said.

He looks forward to the day this is all cleaned up.

"I love this place, I grew up here since I was born, and to see it this bad, it's kind of hard to take," Schallenberger said. 

After the tornado, Union Township's board chair pleaded for assistance. Washington County said it wasn't a FEMA or PEMA issue, and they didn't have the personnel to help. 

The National Weather Service said the EF2 tornado in Finleyville hit peak wind speeds of 118 miles an hour as it tore a nearly 6-mile path through Washington County, lasting about 13 minutes the evening of May 11.

After the tornado, officials told KDKA-TV that at least a dozen homes were severely damaged. One home lost its entire second floor, and a local church that had congregants inside when the tornado blew by was also heavily damaged.

A home was heavily damaged after an EF2 tornado touched down in Washington County on Saturday.  KDKA Drone Team

If you need help, the township says you should dial 211, press 1 on the menu, and follow directions for Union Township disaster clean-up. PA 211 is a program from the United Way of Pennsylvania that helps connect people in need with resources.

Volunteers arrive in Washington Co. to help clean up tornado damage 02:34

"We're here to help lift people up and get them back on their feet. To help serve this community which has been hit several times by disasters, not just the most recent one, they've had flooding and now they've been hit by a tornado," said Peter Lindner, Team Rubicon Logistics Section Chief for their Union Township Operation.

Team Rubicon is a veteran-led humanitarian group. Lindner said around 20 of their volunteers from all over the northeast are on their way to the Finleyville area where there's a lot of work to do.

"There's a lot of tree damage; it's the type of thing we expect to see and debris that is strewn across properties," Lindner said.

Lindner said they spent Monday mobilizing and setting up where they'll stay all week.

Thankfully, their volunteers are trained to do saw work and they will have their chainsaws revving by Tuesday.  

"We're bringing in sawyers that are trained through our multi-level program to come in and help take care of trees that are in precarious situations or down in people's yards, and also help clear access to homes. Our first priority is getting people back into their homes and opening up driveways and walkways, and then we'll help with other needs as well," Lindner said. 

"We are going to have what we call site survey teams out tomorrow, hopefully, and in the next few days, looking for the damage, and networking with the community to see where the need is, and we'll respond to the need," he added.

While the tornado aftermath has been heartbreaking for the community, Lindner said their group has already been welcomed with open arms.

"The amount of food that's been dropped off and stuff has been overwhelming and so it feels good to come in and really be not just as a guest and be part of this community for a little while," he said. 

Lindner said they expect to be on the ground through the week, or until their work is done.

"As a veteran-led humanitarian organization, it's good to serve those with those who want to serve others and also be a part of the response in which you're helping people get back up on their feet. For everything you give, you get that much back," he said. 

They're focused on Finleyville and Union Township, but they'll respond to other storm damage repair needs in Washington County.

The tornado in Finleyville was just one of 14 that the National Weather Service's Pittsburgh office, which also covers parts of Ohio and West Virginia, has recorded this month. It's the most on record for their coverage area in May. Just on Friday, there were four tornadoes around the Pittsburgh area and a fifth in Ohio.

Tornado season in western Pennsylvania typically peaks in mid-June. Meteorologists say the warmer-than-normal spring kickstarted severe weather about a month earlier than normal, and there could be more tornadoes on the way.

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