Residents rebuild after July tornado 67 homes damaged by twister that raced through a month ago

Area 'really pulled together'

Fire chief declares emergency response generally successful

August 18, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A month after a powerful tornado roared through two Gamber neighborhoods, plywood and plastic sheeting still cover dozens of homes and contractors' trucks seem to outnumber the homeowners' vehicles.

But residents of Four Seasons and Mystic Kane Manor still count themselves lucky -- no one was killed in the three minutes of chaos the afternoon of July 19.

The tornado, which damaged 67 homes, was one of the three worst in Carroll County history.

Kathy Walther said she's thinking about throwing a party for the neighborhood to celebrate that residents came through the experience together.

"The neighborhood really pulled together," she said, surveying the area from a hilltop.

Walther said she didn't know what happened until it was over. She was reading while her sons, Mitchell, 2 1/2 , and Mark, 1, napped when the tornado hit about 3: 45 p.m.

"It had already turned sunshiny when I went out and saw all the debris. I didn't know what was going on," she said. "Instead of running to the basement, like you're supposed to, I ran upstairs to the tornado. Everything was blowing around inside my bedroom. Everything was blowing toward me. The bedspread was dancing."

She added, "But we were real fortunate: We just had a lot of siding taken off."

She said the storm caused about $12,000 damage to the 1-year-old house on Mystic Kane Drive.

This week, on Changing Seasons Road, Patricia Butler was just visiting her home, one of six condemned after the storm. Across the street, a leveled house had been rebuilt, while work progressed on two others that were missing their second stories.

The sounds of rebuilding filled her house and the rest of the neighborhood as Butler swept up broken glass in the pristine but empty rooms of her year-old house, which lost its roof. She has been staying with a son, and worries about the people who drive through the neighborhood -- especially those who come after dark.

"There's no place to sit down," Butler said, apologetically greeting a visitor. "They just took off the little red thing that said, 'Do Not Enter.' "

Butler was in Ocean City when the storm hit and returned home about 11 that night to find a state trooper blocking the entry, informing her sympathetically, "You're under the destroyed list."

"The whole east side of the house was gone," she said, and the bedroom and living room furniture were ruined, along with a shed and lawn tractor that were smashed and blown away. The amount of the damage hasn't been calculated yet, because "as soon as they fix one thing they find something else."

One of the oddest sights Butler recalled was a car across the street, unscathed even though the garage that had surrounded it had vanished.

"But all these things are material things," Butler said, noting that an unusually large number of people seemed to be home that afternoon and many could have been killed or injured.

Across the street from her house, Ethan March, 2, and Christian March, 4 months, were blown from their beds into the yard and their father, Jim March, was injured leaping to rescue them.

Miraculously, the three sustained minor injuries and have

recovered, said Edward R. Yingling, chief of the Gamber and Community Fire Company. They, like others whose homes were condemned, are staying with relatives.

"I didn't realize until the next day how many people were home," Yingling said. "With so many people and all the glass flying, it's amazing we didn't have many more people injured."

Officials met Aug. 9 to assess their handling of the crisis and generally found it a successful operation, Yingling said.

The most serious problem was that emergency vehicles coming from Westminster and Reese were blocked by tornado-downed trees and wires on Route 32 (Sykesville Road), he said.

Route 32 also was blocked from the south, where a car had struck a pole less than half an hour before the tornado, Yingling said. The driver wasn't injured, but because wires were down, a Gamber unit was on the scene when the tornado struck -- and able to advise emergency vehicles racing to the site that they needed to detour.

Emergency crews immediately began a house-to-house search, Yingling said, and many homes still bear the sprayed black symbols left by the rescuers to show that no one was inside.

"We found guinea pigs, dogs, cats, birds -- every kind of pet." Even the pets apparently have all been accounted for, Yingling said.

Rescue crews completed their search within about 45 minutes, he said, "an excellent time for dealing with something you're not used to dealing with."

Another problem for the emergency teams was the county's overloaded radio system, Yingling said, but that will be rectified in November with a new, $7 million communications system.

Diane Blacha, who's lived on Eclipse Drive on the Four Seasons side for about three years, had run to the grocery store when the twister hit and heard about it there. Her house needed a new roof, siding and windows -- about $20,000 in repairs.

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