Three injured in rowhouse awning collapse

Buildings throughout region succumb to weight of historic snow

February 12, 2010|By Joe Burris | Baltimore Sun reporter

Three people were injured when the awnings of adjoining rowhouses crumbled in Northwest Baltimore on Friday, one in s string of collapses across the region as the weight of massive snowfalls exacted a toll on vulnerable buildings.

An antique store in downtown Ellicott City suffered damage, and barns in Anne Arundel and Harford counties fell, killing some animals.

On Oakford Road in Baltimore, Marlow Hill, 66, surveyed the twisted metal on the steps of his home and pointed to the blood left when his wife, daughter and brother-in-law were trapped beneath the awnings.

"I first thought the ice fell off the porch," Marlow said. "But then I heard somebody scream." He saw that his relatives were trapped, and "I couldn't get them out," he said.

He said his family members were taken to a nearby hospital, but he didn't know their condition because he remained at his home. He said the neighbors in the adjoining home were not there.

"I don't know where I'm going to stay," Marlow said, as he prepared to leave his home.

Officials throughout the region have been cautioning people to clear as much snow as they safely can from roofs that are flat or have a slight pitch, and to keep drains clear. But the instructions come with a warning: city and county officials acknowledge that there is a significant risk of injuries from falls by property owners.

An accumulation of snow caused Friday's roof collapse in an 1850 wooden building in historic Ellicott City that houses the Wagon Wheel Antique Shop.

No one was inside, but Ed Crowl, who owns both the store and the building, said the exterior wall of the two-story structure buckled out from the weight and the flat roof fell in on the top floor.

The building is located on Tiber Alley, a small cobblestone side street a half-block off Main Street's southern end, near the Patapsco River.

"I haven't been open for two weeks because of the snow," Crowl, 68, of Catonsville said, adding that he's still somewhat in shock.

Crowl said authorities called him Friday afternoon with the news, but they would not let him try to retrieve any of his antiques because of the danger of a further collapse. Asked if he had insurance to cover prized possessions such as an 1850 horse-drawn hearse, Crowl said, "I hope I do."

In the 40 years he has owned the business, "I've had two floods and a fire but this is the worst thing that can happen," he said.

Three barns at Maryland Sunrise Farm -- the former Naval Academy Dairy Farm -- collapsed Friday, killing animals at the farm in Gambrills, and the roof of a church in Lothian collapsed Thursday, according to Anne Arundel County officials.

Around midday Thursday, fire department officials got word that the roof of Miracle Temple, in the 5500 block of Sands Road, apparently had collapsed, said Battalion Chief Steve Thompson. There were no injuries, he said. No other details were available.

In addition to the five steers killed at the organic farm, two more probably will be euthanized due their injuries, said Edwin Fry, who operates the farm in cooperation with Anne Arundel County.

More than three dozen cows that were in a barn when it roof caved in have been moved to other barns, he said. The farm has between 140 and 150 cows.

Two more buildings at the farm were in danger of collapse, but neither had animals inside, Fry said. Equipment was moved from the machinery building, and a pole was added to prop up the roof another building.

"The steel has just bent under the weight of the snow," Fry said. Anne Arundel County has a long-term lease on the property, said County Executive John R. Leopold.

Leopold said the county is working with Fry to monitor the buildings and has offered Fry "any assistance we could provide."

Elsewhere in Anne Arundel, the canopy over an island at Chesapeake Exxon, a service station on Route 450 near the Route 50 entrance, collapsed around 1:30 a.m. Friday, said store manager Nina Wooten. There were no injuries, as the only person around was the cashier inside the building. The service station has been shut down, she said.

In West Baltimore, some awnings in the Edmonson Village area collapsed, according to the Associated Press.

In Harford County, the Fallston Airpark, a horse barn in the northern part of the county, a trucking company in Jarrettsville and a mobile home in Havre de Grace were all dealing with collapsed roofs. The Prince of Peace parish center in Edgewood was the latest structure deemed unsafe.

"Its roof and walls are bowing due to the weight of wet snow," said county spokesman Robert B. Thomas Jr.

Back on Oakford Road in Baltimore, residents said the awning collapse was just one more frustration on a street where snow was piled knee-high and no plows have passed through in a week. One piece of snow removal equipment came through to help fire crews reached the injured victims.

"What is it going to take, more tragedy?" asked a frustrated Renee Ferguson. "I know they say they're doing all they can. But when we snow plows going down Cold Spring Lane, they could have come through here."

Baltimore Sun reporters Larry Carson, Andrea F. Siegel and Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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