LA PLATA - Gov. Parris N. Glendening returned to this devastated Southern Maryland town yesterday to pledge $3.1 million in aid for communities that were struck by tornadoes last week.
The governor, who last visited the county seat of Charles County a week ago, returned to survey the progress being made in cleaning up the destruction left by the twister that tore through the heart of La Plata's business district.
In addition to bringing the promise of money to aid in the recovery, the governor announced formation of a task force to help rebuild La Plata and dispatched caseworkers to make sure families who suffered storm damage receive the help they need.
Glendening also said he had learned yesterday that President Bush has approved the federal assistance Maryland requested shortly after the storm. Bush declared Charles, Calvert and Dorchester counties disaster areas last week, and Glendening said he heard through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that Bush approved federal money to flow to public agencies for relief.
Eight days after the strongest tornado recorded in Maryland swept through La Plata on a Sunday evening, broken trees, shattered timber and demolished buildings were visible all along the route of the governor's walking tour.
Glendening said the damage was the worst he had seen in any natural disaster during his eight-year administration.
"I would put it two to three times worse than anything we've seen before," he said.
The governor praised local officials and state workers for the "phenomenal effort" they have put in over the past week.
"As bad as that tornado was, it has not shaken the resolve or the spirit of this community," Glendening said. "We are going to turn tragedy into opportunity. We will rebuild La Plata."
Six deaths- four in Charles and two in Calvert County-were attributed to the storm that swept across Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. More damage occurred last week when a twister touched down in Cecil County.
Glendening said that the statewide damage from the storms was being estimated at $120 million.
The governor said $700,000 of the state aid would go to local government in Charles, Calvert, Dorchester and Cecil counties and the town of La Plata. Another $500,000 in transportation funds would be used for "streetscaping" in LaPlata and other affected communities.
The state funds also include $1.4 million for "flexible relief grants" intended to help businesses recover. Glendening said the money would help businesses with costs that aren't covered by private insurance or federal assistance. Another $500,000 would go to help homeowners with uninsured costs.
The governor said he had discussed the spending with General Assembly leaders and had received their support. A budget amendment could be approved as early as today, when the Senate Budget and Taxation and House Appropriations committees are to inspect the damage.
Gene Lynch, a deputy chief of staff to the governor, said the $3.1 million comes in addition to $300,000 the state has spent on recovery efforts. He said more money might be needed.
Lynch said the state had 220 employees working on the La Plata recovery, using 180 pieces of State Highway Administration equipment.
Baltimore officials said yesterday the city was sending 30 workers with 25 pieces of heavy equipment, including 13 dump trucks, four refuse bins, an excavator and a shredder, to lend a helping hand. The crew is expected to arrive today and stay for at least two days.
The group was assembled from the Department of Public Works, Office of Transportation and the Department of Recreation and Parks, city officials said.
"Baltimore is for La Plata," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday in a statement. "This multiagency effort is just one way to show that our hearts go out to our neighbors."
At one point in his tour, Glendening stopped to thank about a half-dozen Amish men who had come from nearby communities to help with the cleanup.
The town was filled yesterday with the sounds of recovery -chainsaws, backhoes and trucks carrying away rubble.
Murray Levy, president of the Charles County Commissioners, said that even before work began yesterday, 5,000 tons of rubble had been removed.
Levy, a Democrat, praised the response from state officials, from the governor on down. "A government that doesn't step forward and help its people in a time like this loses its reason for existence," he said.