Heavy snowfall leads to concern about roof collapses

February 07, 2010|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

While most in the region were shoveling sidewalks and uncovering cars, Allen Born and his neighbors were launching snow off their roofs.

They were all worried that the wet and heavy 3-1/2- to 4-foot drifts would prove too much for their flat-roofed HarborView homes. State and local officials have had reports of roof collapses -- with no major injuries -- at a Baltimore church, a school and warehouse in Southern Maryland, and two Howard County barns.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said Sunday that anyone with a flat roof ought to shovel off the snow without delay.

"The weight if unattended could crush the roof," he said. "In the past there have been injuries and fatalities."

The most famous was 88 years ago in Washington, when the Knickerbocker Theatre's snow-laden roof gave way, killing nearly 100 and injuring many more.

No one was hurt but the property damage was considerable when the B&O Railroad Museum's roundhouse roof caved seven years ago. The roof buckled under about 28 inches of snow that a snowstorm dumped on the region.

So Born, an investment banker, didn't want to take a chance with his roof. It wasn't just the sheer amount that worried him, but how different these flakes were, compared with the light and powdery snow the area got in December.

"This stuff was really, really heavy," said Born, who said he, his wife and their neighbors had to heave it onto the nearest street to avoid hitting decks. "It had to be hundreds of pounds worth of snow that ended up on Key Highway."

The weighty snow has also proved too much for many trees across the region. Some fell or dropped limbs on power lines, cutting off electricity to tens of thousands of residents.

Some blocked roads. And some were uprooted completely in a number of neighborhoods, damaging vehicles and property. Howard County police said no one was injured when a tree fell onto a Laurel home Saturday night.

More trouble could come as snow shifts, melts or sits too long on weak surfaces. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. warned residents to brace for new outages "as trees and tree limbs weighted down with heavy wet snow could still fall onto power lines and other electric equipment."

Nationwide Insurance said Sunday afternoon that it had 260 claims of storm damage to homes and 21 claims of auto damage in Maryland, Washington, Virginia and Delaware.

Company spokeswoman Elizabeth Stelzer couldn't say yet how that compares with past storms, because those claims could just be scratching the surface. It often takes people a few days "to dig out and report their claim," she said.

Steve Gondol, who lives in Baltimore's Patterson Park neighborhood, figures the owner of a truck parked on his block doesn't yet realize that a tree snapped in the storm and landed on the hood.

"We actually are not sure whose vehicle it is," said Gondol, who works at the nonprofit Live Baltimore. "They're going to be pretty upset when they come by."

Snow alone -- no trees was enough to cause minor damage to 14-year-old Sam Kahl's home in Parkville, just inside the city line. He was standing in his backyard when snow slid off the roof and onto the porch awning, buckling it.

"I guess that was the extra straw on the camel," he said.

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