Tornado rocks 300 Reistertown homes 'It was like war . . . rubble'

October 19, 1990|By Doug Birch and Rafael Alvarez

Reisterstown resident Jo Nell Smith had just gotten home from work yesterday afternoon, made herself a cup of coffee and settled down on her sofa to watch television when it started raining so hard she thought her windows would break.

"I knew I had to get out of there," said Ms. Smith, 59, an inspector for a plastics company that makes credit cards.

The rain, she said, began blowing sideways against her glass sliding door as if from a fire hose. The windows vibrated and the rain was followed by an eerie sound like nothing she had ever heard.

"It was like a hissing sound," said Ms. Smith, who said her lights went out shortly after that. "It was the sound that made me move. I'd be dead if I hadn't moved."

Dressed in short pants and a thin T-shirt, Ms. Smith ran out the door and down the hallway of the Chartley Apartments in the 100 block of Glyndon Drive and began yelling to her elderly neighbors to run down to the basement as the building shook in the gale.

"Pink insulation was just flying everywhere, like it was snowing, and I kept screaming, 'Get in the cellar, get in the cellar!' " Ms. Smith said.

But by the time she got to the basement, the storm had passed.

When Ms. Smith made it back to her apartment, the roof was off the building, her sliding glass doors were gone and many of her possessions -- including her dining room chairs, potted plants and a picture off the wall -- had been sucked out.

Long shards of shattered plate glass were everywhere, stuck through her furniture like pins in a cushion.

She picked up what she could carry.

"I saw two silver dollars lying on the floor and picked them up and put them in my pocket," she said. "I got my strongbox, a basket of laundry,two pair of shoes and my raincoat, and that's all I've got. I don't even know what is in the basket. I ran down the stairs."

She emerged outside to find her neighborhood in ruins.

was like a war," she said. "Like you see on TV? When everything is rubble? That's the way everything looked -- rubble. . . . I still can't believe it, it's like something out of a bad movie, only this time I'm the star."

Through the side of an apartment building whose wall had been punctured by winds she saw a dressmaker's mannequin, fully clothed, standing untouched in the middle of a wrecked apartment. Cars had been flipped onto their roofs, and other vehicles had their windshields blown out.

Eventually she was picked up by a Baltimore County school bus driver who was ferrying people from the Chartley area to the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Department on Main Street.

There, about 100 people sat down on the second floor to eat crab cakes donated by the Pikesville fire station, where a dinner was canceled by the storm.

It looked like a last-minute church social, with ladies from the neighborhood drifting in to serve the newly homeless as firefighters in rubber pants stood around surveying the scene.

But Ms. Smith needed to use the phone, which was being kept open by the Fire Department in case any other disasters were reported, so she headed back out to the street and made her way to a Friendly's.

She ate a cheeseburger and tried to contact her daughter, without success. It was not until 9:30 p.m. that she reached a friend, who said she would pick her up outside and take her home for the night.

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