Response to twister wins praise Agencies combined efforts in wake of powerful storm

Training put to the test

'The system worked just like it was supposed to'

July 23, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

It was the most powerful tornado in memory, perhaps the worst ever to hit Carroll County. But county emergency, police and fire officials say there is little they would do differently in responding to the storm that ripped through the Gamber area packing 180 mph winds Friday afternoon.

"It's nice to know that your plans [for disasters] worked," said George Thomas, assistant director of the Carroll County Emergency Operations Center. "We would much rather do this as an exercise, but the upside of this disaster is that there was no loss of life and no one seriously injured."

From the the first 911 call at 3: 38 p.m. Friday, it was obvious that the many hours of training and preparation by volunteers and professionals would be put to the test, Thomas said.

Lt. Larry Faries, commander of the state police Westminster barracks, was in Pikesville about to lead a drug raid when he got word of the tornado.

"Even before I arrived in Gamber, I knew I had three seasoned troopers on the scene almost immediately and that they knew what had to be done," Faries said.

"You can't say enough about the folks at the Gamber firehouse," he said. "They were on the scene quickly, and the coordination between fire, police, county and state agencies was excellent."

Clay Myers, spokesman for the Gamber Fire Company, said 100 fire and rescue workers from five county companies responded to the Mystic Kane development minutes after the tornado tore through the community.

"Another 20 to 25 members of the Advanced Tactical Rescue team and a similar team from Baltimore County also came to aid in the search for possible victims," Myers said.

Twenty-two state police troopers put in about 250 hours between Friday afternoon and midnight Sunday, Faries said.

Roving troopers on patrol will continue to monitor the area for several days, he said.

In retrospect, Thomas said yesterday, he could not think of anything that was botched or overlooked during the operation.

Myers said representatives from the agencies involved will meet within two weeks to critique each step of the operation.

"We set up an incident command immediately, meaning the first unit on the scene took command and began coordinating everything that happened," he said. "The system worked just like it was supposed to."

The county has never experienced so strong a tornado, Thomas said. "It was a very powerful and dangerous storm," he said.

The tornado hurled two boys into their yard from their second-floor bedroom, as the room's walls blew out.

After rescue workers had the children on their way to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, they began a house-to-house search to determine whether anyone was injured or trapped in the wreckage.

News that the boys, Eathan March, 23 months old, and his brother Christian, 4 months old, were all right spread quickly and heartened homeowners and rescue workers Friday night.

County officials have determined that 67 homes were damaged, Thomas said. Of those, 28 sustained major damage and were judged unsafe. Six were declared uninhabitable. Thirty-nine other houses sustained minor or slight damage, Thomas said. The Gamber Fire Hall was used as a command center, and the homeowners were taken there by bus Friday evening.

Members of the Gamber company's Ladies Auxiliary helped distribute food and beverages supplied by local fast-food restaurants.

Area businesses brought in lumber, and volunteer construction workers arrived to help board up gaping holes in walls and roofs.

Saturday, Boys Scouts from Finksburg and Westminster came to help clean up debris, and Hampstead homeowners arrived to lend a hand.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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