Deadly storm surprises crowd at amusement park

Sunday, June 2, 2002

WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. -- Cleanup began Saturday at a popular amusement park a day after a storm surprised parents and thousands of children on end-of-school outings, leaving one woman dead.

It appeared that a series of lightning bolts had passed the park in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and the sun had even poked through the clouds. Children were in line for the roller coasters when the winds hit, roaring to 80 mph as they tore across Kennywood Park.

Parents sheltered screaming youngsters with their bodies as one ride's roof collapsed Friday, crushing a woman and sending debris flying through the crowds as they tried to seek shelter. By the time the winds calmed, more than 45 people were hurt and the woman was dead.

Most of those injured were hurt by hail or flying debris during the storm, which lasted about 30 minutes, authorities said.

Twelve children, most with neck and head injuries, were admitted to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said hospital spokeswoman Melanie Finnigan. Dr. Richard N. Townsend, a trauma unit physician at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, said most of the injuries he had seen were among parents.

"They were actually shielding their children," Town-send said.

Shortly before 7 p.m., a wooden building covering a ride called The Whip, one of the oldest rides in the park just outside Pittsburgh, collapsed, crushing and killing Stephanie Wilkerson, 30, of Monroeville, authorities said. The structure was ripped from its foundation by the storm and thrown 20 feet, pinning Wilkerson between the debris and a fence.

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