Baltimore residents return to their homes after storm

National Weather Service says damage was from tornado

November 18, 2010|By Liz F. Kay and Frank Roylance, The Baltimore Sun

The tornado that blasted through Northeast Baltimore and Parkville — ripping off apartment roofs and toppling trees — also tore a rent in Shanon Price's life.

Price stood outside her damaged Mount Pleasant Heights apartment Thursday, contemplating the damage to her red Dodge Stratus, whose windshield was shattered. "I just got this car," she said, looking stunned.

The 23-year-old said she had recently moved with her 5-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter from her grandmother's home into their city apartment. Now the storm has forced them back there, and her son already misses the apartment.

"He said to me, 'Mommy, I miss my new home. I miss my room,'" she said.

Price was one of dozens of Northeast Baltimore residents who returned to their homes Thursday after being displaced by the previous day's storm, which has now been designated by the National Weather Service a tornado with 100 mph winds. The residents confronted an eerie scene: A layer of insulation fibers covered everything — trees, bushes, sidewalks and Price's car — at the Fleetwood Avenue apartment building whose roof had blown off

Of the townhouses in the Dutch Village complex and the Mount Pleasant Heights apartments, city housing inspectors condemned 16, affecting a total of 54 units.

Residents were allowed to enter the condemned homes, escorted by housing or fire inspectors, only to gather a few valuables — no furniture or heavy items. Everyone else was allowed to go to their homes and assess any damage, as well as move cars, said deputy housing commissioner Reginald Scriber.

Overnight, police established a boundary around the two complexes to keep out looters and vandals, also allowing contractors to move downed limbs and BGE crews to secure live wires. But at 8 a.m. Thursday residents were allowed to return.

About 44 people stayed overnight at a temporary shelter set up in the Reginald F. Lewis High School gym, said Bob Maloney, director of the mayor's office of emergency management.

Valarie Lee, 50, spent the night at the shelter with one thing on her mind: her cat, Midnight. When fire marshals pounded on her door early Wednesday morning to tell her to evacuate, she tried to grab the 4-year-old feline and put him in its carrier, but he ran under the bed. She was forced to leave him behind.

"He was in there all night," said Lee, who lived on the ground floor of a building that was condemned. "I was worried about him."

When Lee returned Thursday morning, though, Midnight came when he was called, and she successfully maneuvered him into the carrier, she said. "He was fighting me, but I got him in there."

Lee said she was grateful that no one was seriously hurt in the storm. "We're just keeping our spirits up," she said. "It could be a lot worse."

Still, she's not sure what will happen next for her; her 20-year-old niece, Ciera Johnson; and Johnson's three young children.

"I'm devastated," Lee said. The family had moved into their apartment two months ago. "It was nice, for a moment."

Fourteen homes in the 259-unit Dutch Village complex have been ruled unlivable by city inspectors, according to Howard Libit, a spokesman for the owners, Sawyer Realty Holdings, in College Park.

"Sawyer has relocated six of those families to open units, either elsewhere on Dutch Village property, or to other units owned and managed by Sawyer" in the city or county, Libit said. Arrangements are being made to transfer the rest of the families from the condemned units.

All the remaining homes have been cleared for occupation, and repair crews are working to replace broken windows, repair roofing and clear the grounds of debris. Libit said that work should be completed in "several weeks."

He said the repair of the condemned housing units should be finished in "about a month," and had no cost estimate.

Libit added that Sawyer Realty contributed the first $10,000 to the housing relief fund created by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to assist residents in storm-damaged homes.

Messages left for managers at the Mount Pleasant Heights development were not returned.

After a two-day review of damage, photos and radar evidence, a storm survey team from the National Weather Service's forecast office in Sterling, Va., said Thursday evening that the extensive damage to homes, trees and utilities was caused by a tornado with top winds of 100 mph that traveled on the ground for nearly half a mile.

Rasheeda Abdul, 20, was waiting Thursday for a relative to pick her up with some belongings from her condemned Dutch Village townhouse. She woke up during the storm — which hit the area around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday — and tried to throw her 11-year-old brother into the closet of their second-floor bedroom to protect him from flying glass from a broken window. He still got cut, she said, adding, "I'm just glad everybody's alive."

On Wednesday, Laura Dixon woke up when the storm ripped the roof off her building, leaving her covered in insulation and staring at a grey sky from her bed. On Thursday, the corrections officer had returned to gather her belongings, assisted by Albert Cheeks, a city building inspector.

Things were where she left them. Her purse was still on her dining room table, and her bank cards were still in her work shirt.

She was also able to grab a toy she had bought for her godson and a bottle of Angel perfume — recently purchased Christmas presents.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

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