After tornado, time for cleanup

Rare storm hits two Anne Arundel communities, damaging 53 homes and leaving residents surprised at the destruction

September 30, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,SUN REPORTER

Margaret Michael remembers the silence, then what sounded like an explosion.

She had just gotten home from work when she looked outside and beheld a scary sight: Trees, leaves and branches whipped wildly in the wind as rain poured down.

Michael, who is in her 60s, took the dogs downstairs. Her foot hit the second step when she heard the crash.

"I thought maybe it was lightning striking a transmitter," Michael said.

But it was the sound of a poplar tree limb crashing through her kitchen ceiling, sending water gushing inside, and two more gouging holes into her new backyard deck.

Across the street in Severna Park, the devastation from the tornado that touched down Thursday night was worse. A big tree fell through 48 Whittier Parkway, crushing its roof and tearing away a portion of the house's side.

The two were among 53 homes in Severna Park and Cape St. Claire significantly damaged by the rare twister, said Pam Jordan, a county land-use spokeswoman. Fifteen were deemed uninhabitable.

Between 1950 and 2000, 25 tornadoes have hit Anne Arundel County, said Jackie Hale, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington forecast office. A total of 209 have hit Maryland between 1950 and 1998, she said.

The National Weather Service confirmed yesterday that the tornado touched down in Severna Park about 6:30 p.m. It traveled 2 miles and lifted in Pasadena about 6:40 p.m. At its height, the storm was 250 yards wide with winds of 90 mph, the weather service reported.

The weather service classified the tornado as a Category F1, applied when ground winds range from 73 mph to 112 mph. F1 ranks on the lower end of the tornado damage scale, which goes from F0 to F5.

The storm knocked out power to more than 38,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers, spokeswoman Linda Foy said. About 9:30 p.m. yesterday, BGE reported 626 customers in Anne Arundel County were without power.

The hardest-hit areas included Cattail Creek off the Magothy River, North Cape Arthur and Lower Magothy Beach, Rhonda Wardlaw, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Yesterday, under a sky that bore no trace of the storm, neighbors roamed the streets to snap photos of the damage, comfort each other and start cleaning up.

The sound of chain saws, cranes and trucks from tree-clearing companies served as constant background noise. BGE trucks dotted the street, with workers trying to repair the damage.

"I can't believe it," said Ed Pickwoad, who lives in the relatively unscathed portion of Whittier. "You read about it in Kansas and Nebraska, but I never thought this was going to happen."

Bob Burns, a Whittier Parkway resident whose roof had a hole from a tree that pierced through it, didn't need an official declaration to know a tornado had thrown branches and debris onto his wife's 2005 Honda Pilot, crushing it and an older Accord sitting in the driveway. He pointed to a piece of a real estate sign resting on his front lawn next to a cluster of branches. The sign blew over from a nearby shopping center.

On Emerson Court, Steve Cornacchia was waiting for one of many workers in the area to start removing the tree that buckled his roof. His wife, Kelly, was home with their daughters Thursday evening when the intense winds and pressure from outside also sucked up the doors to the attic.

"It was so loud, I didn't even hear the tree hit the house," Kelly Cornacchia said, describing the "roaring engine" sound that engulfed them.

Patricia Moffitt, who lives down the street from Margaret and Michael Michael's house, said she lost power for 10 hours. At her home and around the bend, the houses remained relatively untouched, without even the telltale smattering of tree leaves and branches in their front lawns.

Moffitt stood near 48 Whittier Parkway, close to a handful of onlookers with digital cameras in hand. They watched as men sawed through the tree trunk lying on the house, just one of the many ravages of the storm.

"I didn't know there was this much destruction," Moffitt said. "We've never had this."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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