- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

A type of storm known as a microburst ripped off the new roof of the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke Wednesday night and left several thousands of residents in the area without electricity.

The storm that formed over the region at about 6 p.m. tore off a large section of the museum’s roof. Bits of foam insulation landed two blocks from the structure. Officials said the museum was closed to visitors at the time, but one employee was inside.

No one was injured, and there was no damage to other buildings in the area.

The museum’s exhibits include antique cars and locomotives, according to its Web site.

Most of the damage was confined to the eastern end of the museum, including its future aviation gallery, where several planes, a hang glider, the basket from a hot air balloon and the old “Roanoke” sign from the Roanoke Regional Airport are stored.

The gallery’s air-conditioning unit was blown off during the storm, creating a large hole in the ceiling, and the internal piping collapsed, said Bob Dills, executive director of the museum.

Mr. Dills said the museum’s main gallery, which houses the Norfolk and Western and African American exhibits, also suffered “a great deal of damage.”

The hallway to the executive offices flooded, and the conference room and several executive offices also were damaged. The extent and cost of the damage is being assessed, Mr. Dills said.

Six months ago, the museum’s roof was replaced for about $300,000, Mr. Dills said.

Meteorologists said the strong winds in the Roanoke area were caused by a wet microburst, an intense column of downward air in a localized area that resembles a tornado.

Microburst winds can reach up to 100 miles per hour, said Phil Hysell, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va.

The storm brought hail and wind gusts that reached between 60 and 70 mph, Mr. Hysell said, referring to a witness account. There was widespread tree damage in downtown and southern Roanoke. Five cars were damaged.

Mr. Dills said he had not been aware of the storm at the time.

“I live five miles from the museum, and there was sunshine,” he said.

The storm caused power outages across central and southwestern Virginia.

Todd Burns, a spokesman for Appalachian Power Co., said the Roanoke area was the hardest hit by power outages.

At the peak of the storm, about 6,000 customers lost power, Mr. Burns said. All customers were expected to get the power back by early this morning, he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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