Reisterstown emerges shaken, but grateful for limited toll

October 20, 1990|By Sandra Crockettand Rafael Alvarez

Thanksgiving came a month early in tornado-torn Reisterstown yesterday in the wake of an estimated $15 million in property damage.

Blanche Owens, her apartment in ruins, was thankful her 18-year-old cat, Buffy, survived the night by hiding behind a heavy sofa.

Robert Townsend, who spent yesterday helping neighbors clean up, was thankful because the only damage his home suffered was "a hole in the roof."

And everybody should be thankful that the late afternoon tornado didn't hit later than it did, said county Battalion Chief Ralph Wilson.

"Occupancy in residences was low at that time. Most working people had not come home yet," Chief Wilson said. "If it had been an hour later, there is no doubt that the human toll would have been much different."

Police said nine people were injured and at least 130 apartments and 30 houses were damaged in the tornado, which began tearing through northwestern Baltimore County at 4:20 p.m. Thursday, uprooting trees, flipping cars and destroying homes. Three houses and 100 apartments were later condemned, and a hole was blown through the roof of a supermarket. Police estimated the damage at $15 million.

Many traffic lights went down or out, and two elderly Baltimore County residents were killed at an intersection where the traffic light was not working because of the storm.

Just before 11 p.m. Thursday, a 1988 Mercury Cougar headed west on Seminary Avenue at Falls Road in Brooklandville went through the intersection and hit a 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity, killing two of the occupants and injuring a third, county police said.

Killed were Joseph R. McIntosh, 84, of the 2800 block of Houcksmill Road in Monkton and Kathlene Nes, 86, of the 13700 block of Falls Road in Cockeysville, police said.

Mr. McIntosh's wife, Elizabeth McIntosh, 70, was treated at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and released.

Dudley Cook, 58, who was injured when the tornado hit his home at the Chartley Park apartments, remained at Sinai Hospital last night in fair condition with a fractured pelvis and thigh and deep scalp cuts. No other people injured in the tornado were still hospitalized.

Power, which had been lost to 92,000 customers as the tornado rolled through, had been restored to all but about 1,200 people last night. All customers were expected to regain power this morning, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials said. To the surprise of BG&E investigators, the tornado caused no gas leaks.

Yesterday morning, the Reisterstown area was abuzz with county work crews, building inspectors, utility workers, state and county police, federal disaster teams and helicopters circling overhead.

Most of the workers had been there through the night. Red

Cross volunteer Ida Hudson of Dundalk was able to get home to nap for a couple hours before returning.

"I interviewed an 88-year-old woman, a lovely lady, who lived alone in a two-bedroom apartment that was destroyed," Mrs. Hudson said. "When the storm hit, she went into the bathroom, and somehow that saved her life. She blacked out in there, and when she woke up she was on the bathroom floor looking up at the sky where the roof used to be. It was raining, and the rain brought her to."

Mrs. Hudson was one of dozens of volunteers who helped police establish a relief center at Franklin Middle School on Main Street, where area residents began trickling in at 7 a.m. to learn if they would be allowed back into their homes.

The Red Cross said 35 families would be lodged last night in furnished apartments at the Comfort Inn in Pikesville and would receive vouchers for food. Emergency housing was expected to be provided throughout the weekend.

Red Cross volunteers served about 700 meals yesterday, and employees from county social service agencies stood ready to help.

Mrs. Owens, the 61-year-old owner of Buffy the cat, was stunned to see the destruction at her apartment in Chartley apartments off Main Street and Glyndon Drive, when she was allowed to return yesterday.

She was not allowed to enter the ground-floor apartment Thursday night because of structural hazards -- not even to look for the cat who had lived there with her for about 10 years. But yesterday morning, she and some of her neighbors were escorted by police to retrieve belongings.

As Mrs. Owens drove up, she saw that the roof of the buildin had blown off and that her picture window was missing.

"Oh my God," she said softly, looking up at the top floor of hebuilding to see a bed minus sheets and a table -- but no roof.

Walking was treacherous. Nail-studded wooden planks covered the ground in front of her building. When Mrs. Owens entered her two-bedroom apartment, broken glass crunched beneath her feet.

A tree branch had pierced a wall, plants were blown from the front of the apartment to the rear, and yet, unbelievably, a shelf of knickknacks stood upright in the corner.

But where was Buffy?

"Here kitty . . . here kitty," said Barbara Beal, Mrs. Owens' sister, while they searched for the cat.

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