When tornado hit, 'I thought we were gone' Ceiling falls in on woman, 87

August 30, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Mable Ann Brown has lived through 87 years of Maryland weather -- the last 21 of them in a little log cabin in Howard County -- but she'd never lived through a tornado before Friday.

"No indeedy, never in my life," said Ms. Brown yesterday while checking out of Montgomery General Hospital. "I've been in hard thunderstorms and things like that, but nothing like this. It didn't hurt me too bad. The ceiling fell in on me, but it didn't break no bones.

"We didn't have any warning," she said. "It was raining a little and then real hard thunder a couple of times, and then the tornado just struck right through.

"All the plaster . . . came down on my head," said Ms. Brown, who turns 88 Thursday. "It didn't knock me out, and it didn't last long, but I'll tell you, I thought we were gone. It was so sudden."

The twister that destroyed the cabin Mable Brown rents just off of Walt-Ann Drive in Glenelg was one of eight sighted on the storm front of Hurricane Andrew that passed through Maryland during Friday evening's rush hour.

A twister is technically not a tornado but a "funnel aloft" until it touches down, according to Fred A. Davis, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

As of last night, Mr. Davis said, half of the eight sightings had been confirmed tornadoes: the one in Glenelg; one just east of Sparrows Point that caused a "water spout" when it hit the Patapsco River; one 7 miles southwest of Annapolis; and one in a Hampstead cornfield in Carroll County.

"There's not much doubt that these were tornadoes," Mr. Davis said. "We had a lot of evidence of circular debris patterns. The one that went through the corn field, you could see the circular motion, and we had a trailer that looked like it was lifted up and turned around."

The other sightings of funnel clouds locally -- the fierce remnants of Andrew that pushed blasts of unstable tropical air across rural and suburban Maryland -- were still being checked for confirmation of touchdown, Mr. Davis said.

The one in Howard County rampaged in a 100-foot-wide strip across two miles in the western part of the county and caused $1 million in property damage, toppled or damaged more than 1,000 trees and left Mable Brown with bruises under her right eye and on her left hand.

Asked where she'd be staying now, she said: "Going somewhere I guess, but I ain't going home."

While Ms. Brown was being helped out of the Olney hospital by her son, who survived the tornado with her and did not want to talk about it, neighbors of the family were out in front of the demolished log cabin taking up a collection to help them out.

By 1 p.m. the kids in the Anthony and Goetz families had raised more than $312, with the kitty growing each time a rubbernecking motorist slowed on Walt-Ann Drive to check out the mess.

Ten-year-old Michael M. Anthony -- who said he knew the Brown family only from trick-or-treating on Halloween -- said the idea came to him while eating melon and bagels for breakfast.

"They're quiet people. They don't come out much," he said, holding a plastic cup out to passing cars. "I came up here and saw all the traffic going by, and when I came home to eat, I wondered how I could help these people."

Michael's 15-year-old sister Carey said she watched the tornado's approach from her front porch before running to hide in the garage.

"Around 5 o'clock the sky got all purple and green, all weird colors and I was like, 'Whoa!'" the teen-ager said. "It got real windy and the rain started, and as soon as I saw the trees bending over I got a little freaked out and went into the garage."

Behind a line of yellow plastic ribbon that cordoned the cabin off from the public, Ms. Brown's daughter Linda Shifflett turned away from the young relief workers and cried.

"This is really nice for my mother and brother," said Mrs. Shifflett, who will be taking her mother home to Capon Bridge, W.Va., to live until shelter can be found closer to home.

l "This is really a loss for them. I'm just grateful they're alive."

As she wiped away tears, Mildred Ficke got out of a car slowing down in front of the cabin and jogged over to Carey Anthony's cup with a crumpled trio of one dollar bills.

"I live over in Catonsville, but I had to come see what happened," said Ms. Ficke. "My heart aches for these people."

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