Crews repairing, residents waiting

In hard-hit Arundel, trees were toppled, cars were crushed

June 06, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun Reporter

One of the few things that the residents of Severn Heights could do yesterday was wait - and keep their generators running.

They waited for Anne Arundel County public works crews to clear their roads of fallen trees. They waited for BGE workers to replace toppled utility poles. And they waited for electricity, cable and phone lines to be restored to the neighborhood.

And they may still be waiting today .

Some of Wednesday's ferocious storms - only one of which, in Calvert County, qualified as an official tornado - had blown off the Severn River and through the backyards of residents of this small waterfront community. Several healthy, towering trees, some more than 100 feet tall, were sheared in half or felled as a wall of thunderstorms stretching from Virginia to north of Baltimore sped by.

"It sounded like a bomb going off," said Steve Andrews, a Severn Heights resident whose house was hit by two poplar trees. "It shook the whole house. ... I've done a lot of crazy things in my life, and I've never been so scared. I thought we were going to die."

More than 190,000 BGE customers lost power during the storms, though by yesterday afternoon all but 29,000 had electricity restored. Schools in Montgomery and Prince George's County were closed, as were seven schools in Howard County and three in Carroll County because of power outages.

Only one of Maryland's storms was officially classified as a tornado, according to National Weather Service forecasters in Sterling, Va. That twister touched down in Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County, where maximum winds reached 85 mph on a path that was 75 yards wide and 1.5 miles long.

Five people were injured there, and 14 dwellings, including a decades-old restaurant, were damaged. Nine families were displaced, including some who were living at a waterside condominium development.

The roof flew off Chesapeake Beach's Trader's Seafood, Steak and Ale, a restaurant whose building dates to the 1950s. "All the doors blew open, and we heard a big boom like a big freight train," said Larry Middledorf, 37, who was working in the kitchen when the storm hit. "It came so quickly. In 30 seconds it was gone. Then we all came outside and saw the devastation."

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold toured Severn Heights yesterday and said it appeared that the neighborhood had been hit by "tornado-like" winds. "The good news is, no fatalities or injuries reported," Leopold said.

Those who were home during the storm found themselves trapped yesterday. Large trees had fallen and blocked the handful of roads that led out of the community. In some cases, only those who came home after the storm - and parked a good distance away and walked in on foot - could go to work yesterday.

"It's barbecue and beer time," said Andrews, whose house was hit by the two trees.

One poplar tore off his rear porch, while another bashed into the side of his house and remained precariously perched against it yesterday afternoon. Andrews said he and his daughter's boyfriend were on the second floor shutting windows when he heard the trees snap and watched them fall toward his house.

Andrews, who has lived in the community for 22 years, described the storm as more of a blob than a funnel cloud typical of a tornado.

"I've done a lot of crazy things in my life, and I've never been so scared. I thought we were going to die," he said.

Residents of this neighborhood appeared to be well-equipped to handle this latest weather emergency. Many residents said they owned power generators, which, along with chain saws of the utility crews and contractors, made the neighborhood sound like a construction zone.

"We lose power on such a continuous basis that everyone has their own generators," said Andrews, who is hoping that a tree-removal crew will finally be able to pull the 120-foot tree off his house today.

One house was hit by two trees. Another resident's vehicles - a Ford truck and two Volvos - were crushed by another tree.

Jeff Gleeson walked around his neighborhood with an incredulous look on his face. He said he could understand losing one or two cars in a storm, but he lost all three of his cars after a neighbor's tree fell on them. Gleeson, 53, said he was grateful that it wasn't worse.

"I can't really cry about it," he said. "It's only a car, and nobody got hurt."

Andrews' next-door neighbor, Richard Diller, said he came home Wednesday afternoon about 2:30 p.m. and turned on the Weather Channel. Moments later, as he and his dog were watching television on the back porch, he noticed that the station was reporting a storm close to his neighborhood. He got up, looked out the window and saw a darkened sky and "things whipping around."

Then, he said, "All hell broke loose. ... There were tree limbs 2 feet in diameter flying around. Ten seconds later, it was all gone. The entire neighborhood looks like a bomb went off."

Diller, who lives near the corner of Old County and Severn roads, said he has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years. The storm toppled a tall, healthy tree in his front yard, one of the first large trees that crews needed to remove before entering the neighborhood.

"These trees have been through all the storms we'd seen," said Diller. "They lived through them, but not this one."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Nicole Fuller, John-John Williams IV and Richard Irwin contributed to this report.

ONLINE

See videos of area storm damage at baltimore sun.com/stormdamage

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