Carroll families pick up pieces of strewn lives Tornado's visit makes neighborhood look like messy yard sale

July 21, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

It should have been a morning mowing the lawn for Mike Collins, and a clear summer afternoon reigning as commissioner over the Finksburg Little League.

Instead, the 37-year-old salesman spent the day wondering where the second floor of his brick colonial home landed after Friday afternoon's tornado. Part of it was on the roof of his Pathfinder. Part of it was in pieces covering his two lawn tractors. And a portion was probably in a neighbor's yard.

The rest, including a bureau holding his clothes, he couldn't be certain.

"What happened in five minutes is absolutely unbelievable," Collins said.

To passing drivers on Route 32, the feeling around Mystic Kane Manor yesterday must have seemed festive, like a giant yard sale. Cars and vans jammed driveways. Oak bureaus, pink stuffed rabbits, television sets, beads, sweaters and coasters dotted the rolling green lawns of the Carroll County development between Gamber and Westminster. Residents milled in trafficless streets.

But something was alarmingly wrong -- a summer tableau with an apocalyptic twist. The once-tidy cluster of brick colonials was topped with jagged second stories, shredded in seconds on Friday afternoon by a tornado that whipped through the 1 1/2 -year-old housing development. Of 66 homes damaged in the storm -- more of a quick, devastating punch than a prolonged windy push -- six were rendered unlivable.

The Collins home in the 705 block of Marvel Drive was one of them. So was the March home next door. And the Haden home next to it -- a strip of suburbia thrashed by a violent conspiracy of the weather. "We're a new neighborhood," said Joyce Haden, sorting through a jumble of broken videotapes in a back yard covered with smashed guitars, wet socks and full dresser drawers. "But we're becoming a close one."

Yesterday, pieces of private lives were strewn publicly on front lawns -- pictures of Kevin and Chris Collins' youth soccer teams, a "Mustangs" football trophy, a woman's pink pump, a Mega Man video game cartridge. "Caitlin's Flower," a tiny yellow handprint of the Collinses' 22-month-old daughter pressed on blue construction paper, rested in a pile on the ground.

"Boy, we've got a lot of shoes," said Mike Collins, tossing pairs of hiking boots through what would have been a second-floor wall. "I guess it's kind of a fetish."

Instead of his usual summer routine -- yard care in the morning, baseball in the afternoon -- Collins and his wife, Peggy, spent a long day picking up belongings, putting them in bags and boxes, discovering what survived and what did not. Insurance agents, friends, neighbors and contractors filed in and out of the half-ruined house, giving it the feel of an archaeological dig.

But family and neighbors had survived the storm. The relief allowed for light moments.

"Mike's not crazy about his underwear being all over our front lawn," said Peggy Collins, who arrived from a week's vacation to a home with no roof yesterday morning.

"I can understand that," said Terry Kratz, a neighbor helping her sort through a mound of bricks, hangers and clothing on the Collinses' front lawn. "Just don't tell him I'm helping pick up."

Next door, March family friends sorted through debris, while Jim and Laura March spent the day at the Johns Hopkins Childrens' Center in Baltimore. On Friday, voracious winds sucked Ethan March, 2, and Christian March, 4 months, through their bedroom window and into a side yard the family shares with the Hadens.

"They flew out the window," said Josh Haden, 7, who fled his house with his brother, Eric, 15, after the wind started. Joyce Haden had gone to Martin's, a grocery store up the street, moments before the sudden storm.

Jim March, standing on a roofless second-story, called to Josh and Eric next door to "pick up the babies." Now the new neighborhood has its first heroes.

"I just didn't want them to get hurt," Josh said. "When we got to them, one had a bloody head and was crying. The other didn't, but you could see tears running down his face. I think we saved their lives." And his father, Bill Haden, chimed in: "Pretty modest aren't we, Josh?" The March children were released from the hospital yesterday.

The Collins family moved into Mystic Kane 1 1/2 years ago, a neighborhood of 30-something parents living in $250,000 homes. moved from Westminster," said Mike Collins, a salesman for A. J. Buck & Sons, a veterinary supply company in Towson. "We saved up for a beautiful home. Now we'll save up for another."

On Friday night, as the tornado touched down in Mystic Kane, the Collins family was vacationing at North Carolina's Outer Banks, a summer ritual. The call came from Mike's father, Mike Sr., who lives down the street, and the family had one thought: How were Abby and Tucker?

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