Sense of community in the face of challenge Frostburg: Nature's worst behavior helps bring out the best in many people.

June 05, 1998

THE SOUND of chain saws in Frostburg and surrounding hamlets in the Maryland mountains since Tuesday evening's tornadoes is the sound of hope, of rebuilding, of refusal to give in, of helping neighbors. Too bad we need a natural disaster to bring out the best in people and the sense of community, but somehow the challenge helps.

Tornadoes are meant to be in Kansas, out there on the endless plain, the little angry funnel seen miles across the wheat fields. Maryland has had a few funnels, even in Baltimore, but they are rare and out of place. What they are not supposed to do is roar down the mountains and valleys.

The Frostburg tornado was one of a bunch that skipped down from southwestern Pennsylvania through Garrett and Allegany counties. Of the hundreds of buildings damaged or leveled in both states, Maryland Emergency Management Agency Director David McMillion said he saw at least 30 buildings destroyed and perhaps 100 more damaged along the line of the big one, a path of destruction 15 miles long and 1/4 -mile wide.

Winds from 150 to 200 miles an hour wreaked vengeance on objects in the way. Yet the five-minute warning that sent people to their cellars wrought its own miracle. More than a dozen people were injured around Frostburg, apparently none seriously. No deaths in Maryland were attributed to the storm, though some were in Pennsylvania.

The close-knit mountain town's ubiquitous police scanner radios not only brought people close together after the fury but saved lives before it. A tornado of this magnitude in a larger, more impersonal place would have wreaked more human damage.

Modern society has banished the vagaries of weather and climate inside many homes and public buildings, but not outside. The brutalities of nature persist. Thanks to satellites and other technologies, the relation of such large events as El Nino or global warming to small ones is better tracked and understood than a few decades ago. Weather warnings are more accurate and dependable.

But weather itself resists taming. It fights back, and modern society must be prepared. Thankfully, Frostburg was.

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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