Fickle force of nature's wrath Carroll County: Powerful tornado blew away homes, treasures, but spared lives.

July 23, 1996

THE POWERFUL DARK twister that touched down on southeastern Carroll County last Friday was upon us for but a few terrifying minutes, but its fickle path of destruction devastated two neighborhoods near Gamber and forced dozens of people from their homes. It is believed to be the most powerful tornado in the county's history, an 180-mph wind funnel classified as an "F3" by the National Weather Service.

But the violent storm was inexplicably merciful in its impact on human life. Two young brothers, ages four months and two years, were sucked from their second-floor bedroom and dumped on the ground, but they were released after an overnight hospital stay.

"The up-side of this disaster is that there was no loss of life and no one seriously injured," noted George Thomas of the county emergency operations center.

These dangerous, swift-moving tornadoes cannot be tracked long-range like hurricanes. They strike at unpredictable points along their line of storms and blow away buildings and vehicles with awesome force, yet people can miraculously escape their wrath.

Many people in the path of this twister quickly took basic precautions, moving to basements or the strongest ground-floor wall; others were not at home that afternoon. Ruth Saylor, who's lived for 77 of her 83 years in the family's log-foundation home on Sykesville Road, combined that approach with another. "I just went to the living room and prayed to God to help me not be scared," she said. The top of her house was blown away but she was unscathed.

Most of the 67 damaged houses were newer ones in the Mystic Kane Manor and Four Seasons subdivisions; 35 sustained damage affecting their habitability. Yet no one had to spend the night in a Red Cross shelter, finding accommodation with friends, family or in hotels. While treasured belongings may have been lost, spirits of those affected seemed high.

Indeed, for such an unpredictable disaster, the professional rapid response of emergency personnel had much to do with restoring confidence. Police and fire rescue workers were on the touchdown scene within a few minutes, securing the area and searching for possible injured and moving victims to a nearby fire hall command center for aid and recovery.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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