Calamitous Weekend

July 09, 1991

Murderous propane explosions in Cecil and Anne Arundel counties and lightning-laced bursts of violent weather throughout the region claimed nine lives in less than 48 hours this past weekend. In Perryville alone, there was a death, 35 injuries and about 100 people left homeless after an explosion and fire caused $15 million worth of damage to the small town. Seven of the nine fatalities came in unrelated boating and highway accidents during what must rank as one of the most tragic concentrated periods in the state's history.

These events occurred in quick, random proximity. They serve as a scary reminder of how swiftly and unexpectedly life can change. Dozens of survivors -- especially in Perryville -- now bear indelible memories and scars of losing loved ones, homes, businesses and possessions to unfathomable fate.

There are lessons to be learned from some of these tragedies. If only police or fire officials had been called to investigate the smell of gas Friday evening, the Perryville blast might have been prevented, a state investigator said. Reporting the smell of gas is a basic safety measure no one should ignore. But it was this time.

No one should ignore, either, warnings of violent weather that often accompany Maryland's hot, humid summer days. They should be heeded especially on open water. Explosive, late-day squalls -- a fact of life on the Chesapeake Bay -- can turn relatively calm waters into a boater's lethal nightmare in minutes. Knowing what to do if you cannot make it to shore is essential.

On the highways, it is advisable to slow down in heavy, wind-driven rain, and pull off the road when visibility is severely impaired at the peak of a storm. Make sure tires have good tread. Remember that despite the high-tech braking systems on many of today's newer vehicles, overwhelming rain as sudden and as heavy as many parts of central Maryland experienced this weekend makes uncontrolled hydroplaning a dangerous possibility.

As the survivors of this weekend's calamitous events try to cope, they are receiving help and solace from unanticipated sources. One of the remarkable things about such tragedy is the extent to which family members, neighbors and even strangers rise to the occasion. Such is the case in Perryville today. Everyone who is able to do so should try to lend a helping hand.

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