Then just after 6 p.m., a large black cloud moved in over Chambersburg, the wind began gusting to incredible speeds and rain fell, sometimes very heavily.
“It was like fire rolling over the top of the building. The power lines started snapping like candy,” said a motorist who pulled into The Lumber Yard when the rain became too intense to see through, according to the Public Opinion.
Another Chambersburg resident, Ida Beard, said, “I was driving home (via) Radio Hill around 6 and saw a round ball in the sky to my left. It kept getting smaller. I looked like a tunnel to the sky.”
Joann Davis said a “loud” and “funny” noise alerted her to something different with the storm. When she looked outside, she “saw a round ball in the sky.” She also saw two motorcyclists exit Interstate 81, drive into a cornfield and throw themselves onto the ground.
Within moments, a tornado touched down in Chambersburg and Fayetteville and “ripped its way through the area last evening, tearing apart buildings and mangling power lines,” reported the Public Opinion. The tornado destroyed or damaged homes along Mill Road and businesses along Wayne Avenue. Four families were left homeless and three people reported minor injuries, mostly from flying glass.
The Waynesboro Record Herald reported that one family returned from a trip to their home on Mill Road. With the rain coming down in sheets and the wind gusting, they decided to stay in their car until the rain let up. “As they watched, most of their home was ripped away by the twister,” the Record Herald reported.
In Fayetteville, two houses and a church were damaged by wind and falling trees.
It was the first tornado in the area in more than a century. It damaged 13 homes and 11 businesses in Chambersburg.
Chambersburg Mayor William Stover declared a state of emergency for the town. National Guardsmen, state and local police and firefighters stood guard in blacked-out areas of the city to prevent looting. A dawn-to-dusk curfew was declared in the Wayne Avenue area.
Borough Manager Julio Lecuona suggested that the power lines that were downed and caused the power outage were brought down when the roofs were blown off the buildings and wrapped themselves around the power lines, turning the debris into sails. The downed power lines trapped some people in buildings who didn’t want to venture out and risk the wind bringing a live power line in contact with them.
All of the homes and businesses without power were restored within two days, but the rebuilding of the damaged buildings took much longer. Shops in K-Mart Plaza, American Can, Chambersburg Livestock, The Lumber Yard and various restaurants all suffered damage.
Damage estimates quickly rose to around $3 million, though the state and federal governments did not declare the area a disaster area.