Tornado damage totals increase

Property losses high at USDA Beltsville research facility

September 29, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

State and private losses from the tornado that slashed through Prince George's and Howard counties Monday evening totaled more than $31.7 million, state officials estimated last night.

The losses included an estimated $15 million at the University of Maryland, College Park, private residences valued at $4.5 million in Laurel and elsewhere in Prince George's County, $1.2 million in lost or damaged vehicles, $4 million worth of Potomac-Electric Power Co. utility poles and lines, and $5 million worth of damaged landscaping and lost trees.

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening is weighing a decision on whether to seek federal disaster assistance to help cover the costs of repairs and replacements, according to Quentin Banks, an official at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, which released the state estimate.

Federal aid is generally granted if uninsured losses total more than $5 million. Banks said Maryland's uninsured losses appear to fall far short of that threshold. Still, Maryland could be eligible for federal aid based on the severity of the impact of the storm, he noted.

If Glendening decides to petition President Bush for aid, the proposed assistance must be reviewed and approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The state estimate did not include losses possibly totaling more than $41 million at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, where 15 buildings were damaged and 80-year-old trees were destroyed.

"We're still trying to figure out what the damage estimate is," said Beltsville spokeswoman Sandy Miller Hays yesterday. "We're looking at 15 buildings and whole ranges of greenhouses."

The greenhouses date from the 1930s and were ruined. Offices with air conditioners in the windows were damaged further when the heavy appliances popped free and shot across the rooms, she said.

Miraculously, none of the 1,400 Beltsville employees or farm animals was hurt in the storm, though years of plant experiments were destroyed.

Hays said that because the 7,000-acre USDA facility has its own farm crews and equipment, they've been able to get started immediately on cleaning up.

"It looks like a war zone. Huge trees have been ripped out of the ground. It's really heartbreaking to see," she said.

At the University of Maryland campus, the estimate of $15 million includes damage to 12 buildings.

Ambling Companies Inc., owners of a private apartment complex on University Boulevard that was home to 700 students before substantial damage from the storm, announced a donation yesterday of $10,000 to the university's tornado victim fund.

Three more campus apartment buildings are to reopen to students tomorrow, which will leave 348 people living with friends or in hotels for up to two more weeks while repairs are made, a university spokeswoman said.

Fifty state prison inmates helped clean up debris in College Park yesterday. Inmates from the Herman L. Toulson Boot Camp who normally pick up trash along roads were sent to College Park, said Division of Correction Commissioner William W. Sondervan.

Meanwhile, workers continued cleaning debris in the North Laurel area of Howard County, where half of the 47 townhouses in the development of Settlers Landing were destroyed. Banks said the state did not have any estimate of the losses there.

James M. Irvin, director of public works in Howard County, said county crews have been withdrawn, but large trash containers and portable toilets will be left in the community for another week for residents to use.

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