A bloom of renewed hope amid a twister's ravages

July 25, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In Carroll County's Gamber, where nature threw its temper tantrum and then blithely skipped town, there's a tiny miracle amid all the ravaged houses, the doorways and roofs tossed indiscriminately about, the mattresses and chairs and children's toys lying haphazardly in yards, the basketball backboard sliced in two, and the line of trees snapped at right angles from the force of the tornado.

"Look at this," says a man crouching on a slab of open concrete that used to be covered by a garage.

Inches from the concrete, innocent as a prayer, there's a tiny rosebush in the ground, and red and pink buds are beginning to blossom. Surrounded by all this destruction, such a sign of life seems inconceivable and perhaps symbolizes something about renewal: Nobody died here, so all can begin again.

Around the bush now stand Ed Sibole and Mike Beacham, with a look of awe and delight at the little roses. They've been out here for days now, since the powerful tornado touched down here Friday, damaging dozens of homes, downing trees and power lines, sweeping two children out of a window, bullying its way through the Four Seasons and Mystic Kane Manor developments southeast of Westminster for about three terrifying minutes and then, having exhaled at length, having grown breathless and exhausted itself, vanished.

Sibole and Beacham are among dozens of men trying to clean fTC out this development. They're with the Popowski Brothers Construction Co., which was hired by insurance companies clutching their hearts over all this random devastation.

"Look what can survive," says Sibole, bending toward the rosebuds.

"And right here," says Beacham, gesturing inches away, "there was a garage just ripped out, and the car sitting in it, the force of the tornado just ripped open its doors."

"Ripped the doors off?" Beacham is asked.

"Nope, not off," he says. "Just yanked open the doors, and that's how the car sat there, with the door wide open. And tore off the garage walls, and ripped through the kitchen and pulled the silverware right out of the drawers."

The two men look down at the little rosebush now. After all the destruction whose remnants they've gathered up and carried away, after all the pain and anguish they've witnessed in the tornado's victims, this is nature's little signal: Stick with me; I have a temper, but I can make magic, too.

"The people who live in this house," says Sibole, "they seemed to be calm when they came back."

"They're all just happy to be alive," says Beacham.

The house's first floor is still standing, but all that remains of the second level are pieces of interior wall and a door frame, which look utterly naked. Someone should throw a blanket over them for warmth, or modesty. The house is at the top of a long, hilly front lawn. Once sitting there high and handsome, it now looks utterly puny, undernourished, its ribs exposed. There is no way to translate the look of such destruction to the anguish of those who lived in these homes.

"The couple that lives here came back after the damage," Sibole says. "The woman got to crying a little bit, but the husband said, 'We don't have anything that can't be replaced.' That seemed to calm her."

"I don't know if I could be that calm or not," Beacham says softly.

The solace people take is basic: Things can be replaced; remarkably, since nobody died, and nobody suffered serious injury, no human beings will have to be replaced. In its perverse way, nature was merciful. Even the two children swept out of their home -- a 2-year-old and his 4-month-old brother -- suffered no serious injuries and were released from the Johns Hopkins Children Center after a night of observation.

"I heard one guy say the whole thing took 90 seconds," says William Hinkhaus, lifting pieces of twisted metal out of a yard. Hinkhaus is in the Popowski Brothers cleanup crew. "Mother Nature can be cruel when she wants to be; ain't nothing we can do about it."

He waves an open palm. Around this lush back yard, there are clumps of things: sofa cushions, chunks of wood, a badminton racket, a sneaker.

Beyond this, across the rolling slopes of these adjoining communities, there's the rest of the destruction: big new houses with their tops ripped away, and trash bins next to them piled high with the remains of the good consumer life; the sound of hammering and sawing and various trucks hauling away debris; dozens of cleanup workers; and, here and there, people pulling up in their cars, moving a few salvaged things from their battered homes to their autos, and then driving away.

The sky is a little dark. You wonder if these folks will forever gaze at a storm cloud or hear the rumble of thunder and wonder if more insanity will follow. But then you remember the rosebuds beginning to blossom in a yard. Life renews itself. Nature got the nastiness out of her system. If she can hold her blustery breath now, her victims can begin again.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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