Residents clean up twisters' damage

September 02, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Jeffrey Lilly keeps a tidy truck. Last week, his life depended on it.

Because strong winds had begun blowing paper out of the recycling truck he drives, Mr. Lilly stopped on Williamsfield Drive near Glenelg to close its bins Friday afternoon.

Seconds later, a tornado smashed through the woods, snapping and uprooting more than a dozen trees into the truck's path.

"I was saying my goodbyes to everybody. I thought I was going to die," said the 24-year-old Dundalk resident, who works for Browning-Ferris Industries.

Unable to get into the cab of his truck in time, Mr. Lilly clutched handles on the side of the truck as bottles, papers and tree limbs flew by him.

"There was this big, black, swirling cloud that just came rolling right by," he said. "It was about 50 or 80 feet in front of me."

After less than 10 seconds, a quiet rain fell on the street and residents began emerging from their homes to see what had happened. Like Mr. Lilly, almost all could count themselves lucky.

Only one person was known to have been hospitalized overnight because of the two tornadoes that struck Howard County between 4:55 and 5:30 p.m. Friday. Two houses were damaged enough to be declared uninhabitable by authorities.

The two tornadoes spun off of a storm that represented the remnants of Hurricane Andrew, which devastated parts of southern Florida and Louisiana last week.

The first and most powerful twister cut a 3.5-mile swath about 30 to 100 yards wide from Glenelg to West Friendship with winds estimated at 100 mph. The second, which was about 20 to 50 yards wide and traveled about 2.5 miles with winds between 40 mph and 72 mph, began at Old Frederick Road in West Friendship and moved north before dissipating east of Sykesville.

Property owners along the tornadoes' paths spent the weekend sawing, chopping and splitting wood. Wood was stacked in large piles on curbsides and branches were were strewn about yards. County officials estimated that more than 1,000 whole mature trees were felled or damaged.

Mr. Lilly said he spent about six hours helping residents hack away at the trees blocking his truck's path. Some residents brought out chain saws to help clear the road to get home.

"We had to saw tree limbs out of the way just to get the barn fit to milk cows," said Bernard Feaga, whose farm was one of the first places the tornado hit.

Aside from a tin roof blowing off of a cattle shelter, the farm was not damaged.

A tree fell onto a small log cabin on the property, however. Its tenants, Mable Brown, 87, and her son, Harold, 67, were $H showered with drywall as part of the roof caved in. Rafters narrowly missed hitting Mr. Brown, said his sister, Linda Shifflett. Mrs. Brown was hospitalized overnight for observation. Just outside the house, a utility pole bearing a transformer was knocked down.

The transformer spilled 18 to 19 gallons of oil containing cancer-causing PCBs, said Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. spokeswoman Peggy Mulloy. A BG&E work crew dug up the contaminated soil Sunday and took it to a BG&E hazardous waste storage area in Security, she said.

As the tornado moved northward, through the Kingston and Eagle's Loft subdivisions, where Mr. Lilly clung to his truck, it flipped a shed roof onto a car, blew over a chimney and continued to rip trees apart.

Then the winds plowed through Clifton Harrison's property. The twister obliterated his 20-foot-square horse barn and ripped the roof off of his house, but did not injure Mr. Harrison or his wife, said their son, Rodney Harrison.

Shortly after the twister hit, Howard Hays frantically argued with rescue workers at a roadblock on Route 32 near the Harrison home.

Finally, he was allowed to pass. Mr. Hays entered his driveway to find the Harrisons' roof on his lawn. The roof was more than

1,000 feet from the Harrison home, and authorities reported finding pieces of the barn that had been carried three times as far.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker surveyed the damage Saturday from a state police helicopter. "It looked like somebody steered the tornado around the houses. It's amazing that we did not have more damage to homes than we did."

Firefighters and county crews cleared downed trees from roads Friday night. Even though the county is not responsible for private property, Mr. Ecker said, work crews also cleared driveways "for health and safety reasons."

Many trees that had fallen in yards away from roads weren't not covered by homeowners' insurance, as Robert and Virginia Gunning discovered to their dismay.

"It had to touch the house to be covered," Mrs. Gunning said as she picked up smaller branches from her yard on Monday.

Mr. Gunning said estimates from tree removal companies have ranged from $2,500 to $3,000 to remove the dozen or so oaks and poplars downed on their Williamsfield Drive property.

What was especially frustrating, he added, was that his policy would have covered trees destroyed by fire or lightning.

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