Evidence of tornado's power travels 44 miles

This Just In...

October 10, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

A COUPLE of days after the College Park tornado, Claudia Brookes went for a walk on her wooded property in northern Baltimore County. It was a lovely morning. High winds had cut through her place, breaking limbs off some tulip poplars, but the worst legacy of the storm was far away - 44 miles as the crow flies, more than 60 if you were to drive - with two sisters killed in a car tossed in the air by the twister, buildings smashed and ripped apart.

Like all Marylanders, Brookes was aware of what had happened Sept. 24 in College Park. But she didn't expect to find a reminder of it when she went for a walk in Monkton.

Brookes and her husband, Paul, live on 15 acres near Sheppard Road. The night of the storm, they lost power at their house for a few hours. Two days later, when Claudia Brookes took a walk, she noticed the fallen limbs and spotted something white among trees.

It turned out to be a color slide, a photograph of two firefighters by the garage door of a firehouse - one man in a blue shirt, the other in a heavy turnout coat. Printed on the slide was a credit line: "Photo by Robert Wright." And under that were the words, "Property of M.F.R.I." It didn't take Brookes long to put this together. The tornado that roared through College Park had reduced to rubble the triple-wide trailer that housed the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. In fact, the daughters of the institute's deputy director, F. Patrick Marlatt, had been killed in the storm.

There was no other immediate explanation for the MFRI slide being in Monkton - the tornado had carried it there. Nearby, Brookes found two other pieces of paper, one a page from an instructional manual on "public management," the other from what appeared to be a "metal products catalog."

A tornado sucking up items and delivering them more than 40 miles away is not unusual, and far from the most impressive display of a twister's carrying power. According to an article on tornado videographers in the current Atlantic Monthly, the longtime record is held by a canceled check that flew 225 miles between towns in Kansas and Nebraska in 1915.

Still, College Park to Monkton - that's an amazing thing to consider. Assuming anyone around here still needs evidence of the awful power of that storm.

Frequent flier's concerns

I asked a cabdriver if he'd heard a lot of customers complaining about tedious security checks at BWI since air travel resumed after 9-11. No, he said. But some customers had complained that the checking wasn't thorough enough.

Then I heard from Greg Karl, a salesman and frequent flier out of Raleigh, N.C. He wasn't satisfied with procedures, either.

He took a flight Sept. 30 from Albany, N.Y., to BWI, changing planes here for a flight back to Raleigh. When he checked in at the gate for his connection, the airline agent did not ask Karl for a photo ID or "any usual security questions," Karl said. Karl found this alarming - that there was no further checking of his identity after he'd arrived at BWI. He'd passed inspection in Albany, but felt he should have been subjected to another check in Baltimore.

Karl did the smart thing, though, complaining about the breach to the agent's supervisor, the Federal Aviation Administration, the airline that was to take him to Raleigh, and the media. "I got on the flight [to Raleigh] and hoped for the best," he says. "I am a very frequent flier on many airlines. When I flew to Albany on my outbound flights I was asked for my ID and asked security questions. How can the public feel secure if the procedures are not consistent?"

A relevant film

A movie worth seeing again, for its relevance to current events: The Wind and The Lion, a 1975 drama with Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, John Huston and, as Teddy Roosevelt, Brian "Family Affair" Keith.

The film is based on an incident in Morocco in 1904 in which Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, sword-slashing chieftain of a band of Berber tribesmen and "the last of the Barbary pirates," kidnapped a New Jersey businessman, Ion Perdicaris, from his villa in the port city of Tangier. The incident gave Roosevelt an opportunity to wield his "big stick" and to send ships and Marines to Tangier to expedite Perdicaris' release. "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!" became a cry across the land and one that helped T.R. (played superbly by Keith) win re-election.

Don't expect to see Osama bin Laden in Connery's Raisuli; the character is humanized in the film, not demonized. ("The Raisuli does not harm women and children," Connery says.) Raisuli has specific aims clearly stated, which would distinguish him from the modern terrorist.

The best the film has to offer is the confrontation between Roosevelt and Raisuli. The two men never meet; they remain ideas to each other. But they duel in splendid metaphors that give the film a historical poetry to be appreciated in a post-9-11 viewing.

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