Tornado kills two UM students

Clarksville sisters dead, 50 injured in College Park

September 25, 2001|By Michael Dresser and Alec MacGillis | Michael Dresser and Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - A tornado blazed a 10-mile-long path of destruction through Central Maryland at rush hour yesterday afternoon, killing two Howard County sisters and injuring dozens of people while ripping the roofs off buildings and flinging cars through the air.

The storm - whose winds were clocked as high as 206 mph - touched down in College Park at about 5:20 p.m. and tore north into Beltsville, Laurel and Savage, flipping trucks off of roads, shredding trees and twisting the goalposts at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium.

The tornado displaced 3,000 students from Maryland dorms and left at least 16,300 residents, mostly in Howard and Prince George's counties, without power last night.

FOR THE RECORD - Based on information supplied by Maryland emergency management officials, an article about tornado damage in Tuesday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported that the storm caused a fertilizer leak at The Behnke Nurseries Co. in Beltsville. While initial reports were for a problem at the nursery, hazardous material crews actually responded to the nearby Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. The Sun regrets the error.

"It started out like it was going to be a strong thunderstorm and then you heard the wind start howling like I've never heard it before," said College Park Home Depot manager Eric Ziolkowski, who had about 100 employees and customers with him in the store when the storm hit, taking off the roof. "You could then start hearing and seeing the skylights start shattering, and then the front windows started blowing in."

Two students were killed when the storm picked up their car near the Easton Hall dormitory on the University of Maryland campus and threw it into a tree in a parking area, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for Prince George's County Fire and EMS.

A family friend, Dr. Clifford Turen, confirmed last night that the victims were sisters, Colleen Patricia Marlatt, 23, and Erin Patricia Marlatt, 20, of Triadelphia Mill Road in Clarksville.

The girls' father, F. Patrick Marlatt, is chief of the Fifth District Fire Department in Howard County and deputy director of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, whose trailers on the campus were destroyed by the tornado. He was taken to Washington Hospital Center with minor injuries.

It was there, according to Turen, that the father was notified that his two daughters, who had left the trailers where they were visiting their father moments before the storm hit, lost their lives in the tornado.

Colleen was a senior studying environmental policy due to graduate in January, and Erin was a sophomore studying sociology.`The entire family is devastated," Turen said

Jason Gleeber, 19, a student from Elkton, raced outside the Easton dormitory to see if anyone was hurt. He saw the car about 75 feet above his head, he said.

"I saw the car flying in the air. I could see the bottom of it," Gleeber said. "It dropped. It just hit the ground."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared a state of emergency in Prince George's and Howard counties last night, calling the storm the worst natural disaster he has seen since taking office seven years ago.

"It is far more extensive than I think was initially reported," he said.

University President C.D. Mote Jr. canceled today's classes, saying, "We're in no position to conduct business as usual."

The storm touched down at the northern end of campus, near the football stadium and the dormitories where many freshmen live.

It destroyed the trailers used by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute outside the university's new performing arts center, trapping five people who were pulled out with minor injuries, Prince George's County fire spokesman Chauncey Bowers said.

Those in the trailer learned of the storm when one employee received a report of a tornado in Hyattsville on her pager. Two minutes later, they heard the wind, and everyone dove under tables.

Ann Davidson, the institute's director of administration, grabbed a nearby desk.

"The rest of me was airborne," she said. "Clearly anybody who survives this kind of devastation feels kind of lucky and blessed."

Davidson's 12-year-old daughter, Imogen Davidson White, was temporarily trapped under the strewn rubble and the desk she used for cover.

Toby Wilson, a copy specialist, was the only one thrown from the building.

He spotted a branch whipping by the window as the storm approached and "then the whole trailer shifted," he said. "The next thing I knew, I was out here about 75 [feet] to 80 feet away" in the mud, he said. "I've had better days."

Still, he came away with only cuts and bruises.

Bowers, of the Prince George's County fire department, said at least 50 people were injured in the storm. At least 15 of them were being treated at hospitals last night.

A Red Cross shelter was set up at 7901 Cypress St. in Laurel. People trying to track down someone injured in the tornado can call the Prince George's Crisis Hotline at 301-864-7161.

The storm also shattered windows at the arts center, badly damaged the north campus dining hall and toppled the steeple of the Pentecostal Holiness Church on Route 193, whose entire side was caved in. Up U.S. 1 in Beltsville, the storm caused a fertilizer leak at Behnke's nursery, which was being investigated last night.

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