LA PLATA - Weeks after the devastating La Plata tornado, dozens of missing legal, financial and personal documents, along with other lost possessions - including a chubby beagle named Baby - are slowly making their way home from wherever the winds happened to take them.
Bingo cards, divorce papers, bank receipts, tax documents - all have been found recently by people on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay, some as distant as southern Caroline County, 66 miles away; Seaford, Del., 74 miles away; and Lewes, Del., 100 miles away.
"The enclosed cash out ticket was found in my flower bed located just outside of Oxford on Boone Creek, Talbot County," said one of 18 letters sent to County First Bank since the April 28 tornado, which sheared off the brick building's roof and sent documents on a long, mysterious journey.
The bank has hastily reconstructed several dozen commercial loan applications that disappeared from the La Plata branch's second floor, now covered only by a blue tarpaulin. It's as if a giant hand reached in and pulled out credit files, applications and boxes of stored receipts.
A steel-and-concrete vault containing cash and safety deposit boxes on the first floor was not breached.
Bank President Earl Gieseman says strangers often include "nice little notes" - he's saving them for a scrapbook - in mailing back receipts or other records from surprisingly far-flung locations.
One such handwritten letter came from Lewes, an ocean resort near Rehoboth Beach. "My husband found the enclosed bank receipt in our front yard on May 1," the note said. "We were astounded by the distance involved."
The postmarks on the correspondence to the bank and other La Plata businesses track east across the bay from Talbot County, to Dorchester County, to Caroline County, to the Delaware county of Sussex - all the way to the ocean.
The National Weather Service says the tornado dissipated before reaching Delaware but debris, including pieces of roof insulation, could have remained aloft for miles.
It's not just paperwork that got a bumpy ride.
Shades of Toto
Florence Gorman, 39, said she believes her 42-pound beagle Baby was pulled into the swirling winds when the tornado ripped apart her sister's home, where she and her pet were staying.
"She was so scared. Her eyes were so big" when the storm hit, said Gorman, who had just moved from Florida a week earlier to be with her sister, whose husband had been deployed on an overseas military assignment.
Gorman said 8-year-old Baby ran past her in the hallway of the basement, where she had taken refuge.
"My nephew said Baby was being sucked down the hallway by the tornado," she said. The twister nearly destroyed the house, except for the basement bathroom and laundry room.
When the storm passed, Gorman and her sister, Kerry Yost, searched the neighborhood for Baby but there was no sign of the dog. A week went by without Baby, and Gorman was losing hope and feeling "very guilty."
"She depends on me to protect her," she said, "and I didn't do a very good job."
Then, on May 5, the beagle reappeared.
"She came out sniffing from behind the only wall remaining, the back outer wall," Gorman said. "I could not tell you where she came from.
"She had lost some weight, which didn't hurt her, and the volunteer workers gave her eggs and sausage."
When pigs fly
The beagle was among 17 dogs, nine cats, five birds and two rabbits reported missing after the tornado, according to the Tri-County Animal Shelter in Hughesville.
Most, but not all, have been accounted for.
There is rich tornado lore about animals lifted up by tornadoes and set down miles from their homes.
"We know that pigs have gotten thrown considerable distances - hundreds of yards," said meteorologist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storm Laboratory in Norman, Okla.
But as far as tracing a storm's path, Brooks said, bank checks are particularly useful because they are generally made of strong paper and carry names and addresses.
"Checks are relatively aerodynamic," he said.
Harriet Slaughter, 57, of Oxford, is among the many Eastern Shore residents who stumbled across a stray canceled check.
It was from the La Plata Tire Center, and she decided to send it back.
"To whom it may concern," her note began. "We found your canceled check in our yard the day after the tornado along with several other pieces of mail. Please know we are thinking about you in your sad times."
She signed it, "Your friends on the Eastern Shore of Maryland."
Eric Viars, a technician at the tire store, said "the boss couldn't believe it" when the check arrived. It probably came from a storage shed used to save old receipts for tax purposes, Viars said.
Thomas Crook, who also lives in Oxford, said he found bingo cards, deposit slips and home insulation among hundreds of pieces of tornado debris at his horse farm.
"There were papers related to divorces - quite a lot of legal paperwork," he said.
Snatched off desks