In seconds, neighborhood in chaos 48 homes damaged with roofs torn off, walls blown out

Carroll County Tornado

July 20, 1996|By Jackie Powder and Mike Farabaugh | Jackie Powder and Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF Staff writers Anne Haddad, Frank Roylance and Brenda Buote contributed to this article.

A powerful tornado tore through Carroll County yesterday, damaging 48 homes and downing trees and power lines in a terrifying few moments in which two small children were swept out of a window.

About 30 homes were severely damaged, but no one was seriously hurt. The two children, a 2-year-old and his 4-month-old brother, were in stable condition last night at the Johns Hopkins Children Center in Baltimore.

The boys, who were not identified, suffered minor injuries, according to hospital spokesman Jack Sheehan. They were brought by ambulance to the emergency room at about 5: 30 p.m. and will be kept overnight for observation, he said. No other information was available on the incident.

The tornado touched down at 3: 45 p.m. in the Four Seasons and Mystic Kane Manor developments off Route 32 southeast of Westminster. Residents reported that the tornado lasted about three minutes before its high winds and pelting rains gave way to sunny skies.

The tornado turned an orderly suburban neighborhood into a chaotic scene. Roofs were blown off homes; jewelry, clothes and furniture were strewn throughout backyards, and parents comforted crying children.

Janice Brown and her 15-year-old daughter, Jada Thompson, looked in disbelief at the home on Kane Drive where they had moved just six months ago.

"All of a sudden the wind started blowing real hard, and we ran to the basement," said Jada. "As soon as we got down there, the whole back of the house just blew in. Glass was everywhere, and the rain was coming in."

Sue Ingalsbe of Spring Drive said she was taking a nap when she heard glass shattering.

"I thought it was a nasty storm until I heard the windows break," she said. "I got up, and I saw my picnic table fly off the deck. Everything was done in a matter of minutes."

Residents who were forced from their homes were tak-en by bus to Gamber Volunteer Fire Department. Red Cross workers organized trips to retrieve glasses, dentures and medications.

Displaced homeowners used cellular phones to call relatives, children played with toys, and volunteers set up a canteen offering pizza, sandwiches and sodas.

Mitchell and Laura Adkins and their day-old daughter were among the approximately 200 people at the fire hall. The couple, who live in Mystic Kane Manor, were on their way home from the hospital with their baby when they heard that a tornado had hit.

"We've been there, and we have walls and windows out," said Mrs. Adkins.

The tornado began as a line of thunderstorms that formed in Pennsylvania, said Jim Travers, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va., forecast office.

At about 1: 30 p.m., the storms began to cross into Western Maryland and headed southeast. They soon prompted a succession of severe thunderstorm watches and warnings across most of the state.

It was a "very strong line of thunderstorms and it just hung together with different cells in it, and it moved steadily southeast all afternoon," Travers said. Only Northeast Maryland was spared.

By midafternoon, tornado warnings were issued throughout the Baltimore area and in the Washington suburbs.

"This is a potential killer tornado. People in the Baltimore area should seek shelter immediately!!" the warnings said.

The tornado warnings were issued to neighborhoods including McDonogh, Randallstown, Stevenson, Pikesville, Brooklandville, Woodlawn, Towson, Landsdowne, Baltimore, Parkville and Carney. The only significant damage occurred in Carroll County.

Late yesterday afternoon under blue skies, tornado-tossed debris littered Route 32 in Gamber. A barn was a heap of splintered wood, and a child's mattress was perched on an uprooted tree by the road. The curious gathered with video recorders and cameras.

"It looked like somebody just dropped a bomb," said Chad Barker of Taneytown, who drove to the area to see if he could help.

Ruth Saylor, 83, alone at home when she heard the raging wind, did just what her grandmother always told her to do in a bad storm.

"I've lived here most of my life. I just went to the living room and prayed to God to help me not be scared," she said. "The living room is the older log portion of the house. It's older than me."

That section was all that remained of the two-story wooden home at 2932 Sykesville Road.

The violent winds twisted tree trunks and snapped 16-inch utility poles on the Saylor property before crossing Route 32 to level the barn, wagon shed and chicken house. The tornado continued southeast, racing across a cornfield before hitting Mystic Kane Manor development.

Alongside the remains of the Saylor woodshed was a van, about 80 feet from where it had been parked in the driveway of her neighbor, Denise Spencer.

Spencer saw the storm coming and went to the basement where her daughters Jenny, 13, and Amy, 12, were watching television.

"I didn't even get to the girls when I heard a loud crash," Spencer said. "It must have been our van walking across the yard."

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