Residents of central and northeastern Maryland yesterday cleaned up the debris left by a tornado that trapped people in their houses, ripped roofs off buildings, knocked out power to thousands of homes and uprooted trees.
The twister caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage along a 2 1/2 -mile-wide path through Charles, Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, authorities said. No one was injured.
"It picked this building up -- a carport -- and blew it about 1,000 yards into the woods," said Charles Vernon Jr., who owns a farm in the 8000 block of Quarterfield Road in Severn. "I was in the garage when it started raining, and I thought somebody was taking a sledge hammer to the doors. All the doors was just moving back and forth like what you see in the movies."
The tornado was detected by Doppler radar near Clinton, according to the National Weather Service. Personnel at Andrews Air Force Base reported seeing the tornado touch down on the facility's grounds, he said.
It also was reported on Doppler radar near Gunpowder State Park, according to the weather service, moving at 50 mph.
Chris Strong, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said such storms are "fairly unusual" on the mid-Atlantic Coast.
He said the combination of humid air, already strong breezes and Hurricane Opal, which was spinning west of the Appalachian Mountains, made conditions ripe for the tornado.
The amount of damage caused by the storm was surprising, said Battalion Chief J. Gary Sheckells, of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.
"We've had severe storms," he said. "But typically we have not had that kind of damage to as many houses in a concentrated area like the one last night."
Governor Parris N. Glendening toured the affected neighborhoods in Prince George's yesterday and announced he would establish a disaster assistance program to provide financial help for homeowners.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development is making about $750,000 available in low interest loans to restore homes damaged in the storm.
Yearling Court in Severn was devastated by the high winds and rain. The tornado cut a swath through the community, tearing the roofs off the $200,000-homes, exposing rafters and beams.
"This happened in maybe 10 seconds," said Catherine Dziadel, pointing to damaged houses on her street. "All the lights went out and I went to get a candle, and I heard some eerie strange noise. It sounded like a whish."
Yesterday, workers were replacing plywood and insulation on the roof of her house.
Nearby, Darlene and Frank McKeon were trying to figure out how to get rid of a huge tree trunk that had crashed into their swimming pool.
The McKeons picked up glass and trash blown around their house and joked with each other about taking a swim on the 80-degree day.
"It's nice that we can laugh in the face of adversity," Mr. McKeon said. "Without comedy we'd all be grumpy."