Winds deal state some heavy blows

Impact: Falling trees and branches block roads, property is damaged, power is cut to thousands in state, and snow falls in Western Maryland.

November 14, 2003|By Laura Loh and Lynn Anderson | Laura Loh and Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

On the Jones Falls Expressway in Baltimore, yesterday's shrieking winds provided a rush-hour show, as a large workers' tarp billowed and snapped like a huge sail along the Howard Street bridge.

At Laurel's racetrack, horses scheduled to run were kept inside warm stables. And in Annapolis, Main Street shopkeepers fought swirls of dead leaves that persistently blew through their doorways.

"Every time I sweep [the leaves] out, they come back in," salesperson Kim Mallory, broom in hand, said as she stood guard in the doorway of the Alpaca International clothing store.

Across Maryland, residents battled yesterday's cold westerly winds that at times exceeded 50 mph - and in Garrett County accompanied the season's first measurable snowfall.

The winds, which picked up in the Baltimore area about midnight yesterday, knocked down trees and power lines, caused accidents and slowed traffic on major bridges.

More than 110,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers lost power, according to the company. The greatest impact was in Anne Arundel County, where 55,000 customers were without electricity yesterday afternoon.

"As we said during Isabel, the trees that had [been] blown hard during Isabel would be in a precarious position, and future storms would result in greater than normal outages, with tree limbs and branches and sometimes whole trees going down," BGE spokesman Robert L. Gould said.

The wind brought financial setbacks, too.

At Laurel Park, thoroughbred races were canceled, costing the track a day's revenue. "We took a hit," said spokesman Mike Gathagan. "But at the end of the day, it's better for us to have canceled before the racing day started."

At Fort Meade, a giant tent worth $150,000 was destroyed, forcing the cancellation of weekend crafts fair by the Officers' Wives Club, Army officials said.

City Dock in Annapolis was unusually quiet at midday. None of the lunchtime crowd ventured onto the benches.

"Who would?" said Judy Schwartzberg, owner of The Big Cheese, a cheese and sandwich shop. "You could blow away out here."

Falling trees and branches blocked roads and damaged property. In Ellicott City, a tree crashed through a house and left it uninhabitable, Howard County fire officials said. In downtown Havre de Grace, a tree fell on top of two cars.

Downed power lines caused confusion at many intersections, and police officers were dispatched to direct traffic.

State highway officials yesterday banned empty tractor-trailers and some other vehicles from crossing the Francis Scott Key and Chesapeake Bay bridges and urged caution on smaller bridges. Long traffic delays awaited Eastern Shore residents trying to cross the Bay Bridge yesterday morning, where high winds forced bridge operators to shut one of three westbound lanes about 7:30 a.m.

In Annapolis, a truck driver suffered minor injuries when the empty trailer he was towing tipped over on the Severn River Bridge about 1 p.m. A rear corner of the trailer was left dangling over the side of the bridge, and traffic on U.S. 50 backed up for miles. The driver, Andrei Nikitsin, was able to escape from the truck's cab.

The winds caused other transportation difficulties.

Several flights scheduled to leave Baltimore-Washington International Airport were delayed because of gusty winds, airport officials said. A section of the Penn Line of the Maryland Rail Commuter system was closed about 4 p.m. - between the New Carrollton station in Prince George's County and the Halethorpe station in Baltimore County - after trees toppled onto the tracks between Odenton and Bowie, said Walter Hayes, a MARC spokesman.

The trees severed electrical lines that power some of the commuter trains and track signals, Hayes said. One of the trees caught fire but did not damage the tracks. No injuries were reported; the tracks reopened around 6:15 p.m.

Downed power lines left dozens of schools in the dark in Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

In Baltimore County there were 16,700 outages, and in Baltimore more than 11,000, according to BGE. Thousands more were without electricity in Calvert, Carroll, Howard, Harford, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

State police at McHenry reported 2 to 3 inches of snow in Garrett County, where wind gusts reached 50 mph.

Sun staff writers Amanda Angel, Laura Barnhardt, Tricia Bishop, Athima Chansanchai, Chris Guy, Richard Irwin, Molly Knight, Lorraine Mirabella, Frank D. Roylance and Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.

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