Severe storms sweep across Md.

Tornado warnings issued

thousands lose power, but damage is relatively light

May 13, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs and Richard Irwin | Johnathon E. Briggs and Richard Irwin,SUN STAFF

For the third time in as many weeks, severe thunderstorms swept Maryland yesterday, prompting tornado warnings that sent people ducking for cover as meteorologists traced alarming Doppler radar readings.

But unlike the tornadoes that ravaged La Plata on April 28 and wreaked lesser havoc in Cecil County on May 2, yesterday's storm left mostly flooded streets, downed power lines, uprooted trees, property damage and, for some, jangled nerves.

Damage reports flowed into police and fire departments as storm cells swept out of the Ohio Valley and across Central Maryland with dramatic lightning, heavy rain and strong winds. Gauges at Baltimore-Washington International Airport measured gusts at 45 mph.

But damage suggested higher winds in other areas.

A tree fell on a house in the 4600 block of Rehbaum Ave. in Arbutus, causing serious damage, but an elderly couple emerged unhurt.

About 5:45 p.m., Baltimore County police received at least 20 reports of storm damage in a matter of minutes, including a call from Lansdowne, where a backyard trampoline in the 3100 block of Freeway was blown into the air and landed on two nearby parked cars.

"Anything not nailed down was blown away," a communications officer said.

Heavy rain quickly flooded many streets in Baltimore -- some because of storm drains blocked by debris, police said.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. reported power outages affecting about 35,000 customers. Hardest hit were the city, where about 13,000 lost power, Anne Arundel County with 12,000 affected, and Howard with 7,100.

Although at one point tornado warnings indicated the worst of the storms bearing down on the Carroll County towns of Eldersburg and Sykesville, BGE said only about 300 customers lost power. Many traffic signals in Carroll were disrupted.

Jennifer Webster, a BGE spokeswoman, blamed short circuits -- the result of high winds that caused wires to touch -- for many of the outages. Repair crews were expected to be working through the night.

In Columbia, a 100-foot oak tree fell by a porch of Kings Contrivance Restaurant, where many patrons were enjoying Mother's Day meals.

"It was startling," said restaurant owner Stuart Teper. "We're really lucky it didn't land on the porch."

As the storms moved toward the east and northeast, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Frederick and Carroll counties at 6:03 p.m. When Robin Parr heard the news at 6:20 p.m., she, her husband, Mark, and their three children rushed to the basement of their home in the 6200 block of Longleaf Pine in Eldersburg, taking their steak dinner with them.

"The clouds were scary. I told my kids to get down there," Parr said. But after 30 minutes, "it turned out to be a dud," she said. But that didn't stop her 9-year-old daughter from crying.

"She was very concerned. I think all that stuff with La Plata," Parr said. "When they saw that damage, it made them think that if it can happen in Maryland, it can happen in Eldersburg."

In Sykesville, Patty D. Leupen's family was watching television and saw news forecasters outlining the storms' path.

"It looked like it was headed right for us," Leupen said. She and her husband, Randy, hurried to get their five children, ages 1 to 12, into the basement of their home. "You just don't take a chance with five kids," she said.

The tornado warning also jarred the nerves of Emily A. Hay, 21, a cashier at Little George's Convenience Store and Deli, minutes from historic Sykesville off Route 32. After her mother called her at work and told her of the warning, she ran to the store window to watch the approaching storm.

"Her running scared me more than the storm," said co-worker Barry A. Snowden, 17.

Asked what he would have done had a tornado touched down near the basement-less business, he said he had a contingency plan in mind.

"We'd run into the cooler after locking the doors," he said. "I'd rather take my chances with a 38-degree room than a tornado."

Sun staff writers Athima Chansanchai and Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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