Sandy damage in Bel Air

A large section of the ceiling in one of the first floor rooms of the Murray residence is exposed and items are scattered about, as the family tries to gather up what they can after the damage from Monday's storm. (Hafiz Rashid for The Aegis, Patuxent Homestead / November 1, 2012)

Patrick and Helen Murray have lived at their home on 1212 St. Francis Drive in Bel Air's Marywood community for 38 years.

When Superstorm Sandy hit the area Monday and Tuesday, the two were fortunate they were not home when winds picked up a large tree from a neighbor's yard and slammed it onto their roof, right above the Murrays' bedroom.

Helen was staying with her daughter, who lives in downtown Bel Air, during the storm and helping look after her new granddaughter. Patrick's brother had just passed away and he was in Texas tying up loose ends.

"I was very fortunate that I wasn't here," Helen said. "I really feel that had I been home, I would not be alive."

Helen said the entire house was damaged by the storm, with only the family room left standing. The attic and ceiling collapsed from the weight of the tree, with water from the storm even going into the basement.

"I can't even estimate [the cost of repairs]," Helen said. "It's so much damage; it's unbelievable."

On Thursday afternoon, the Murrays' house was full of various workers helping to clean up and assess the damage to the home. Peggy Gurick from Annapolis-based Admiral Cleaners Restoration Services was among them.

"It's bad, but you have to put yourself in their shoes," Gurick said. "That's what we're here for and that's what God put us here for."

"[Helen's] got a crocheted blanket her grandmother made," Gurick said. "I've got to make sure that it doesn't get molded."

"Everything from their attic is now in their bedroom," Gurick added. "They're distraught, and I think I would be too."

Helen Murray, however, was sure to put the damage to her home in perspective.

"Above all, even though I've been married 40 wonderful years, with all of the beautiful pictures and memories [gone], I'm really grateful for my life," she said.

The Murrays' home was one of two on St. Francis Drive in Marywood that was damaged by a tree and among several damaged around the county.

Earlier Thursday, Harford County Executive David Craig announced the county won't charge fees on permits required for homeowners to repair damage caused by Sandy.

If a property owner pays a permitting fee in order to repair Sandy-related damage, the county will provide a refund, according to a statement from Craig's office.

'Terrible feeling'

Lee Edwards, who lives across the street at 1211 St. Francis Drive, was watching the house while the Murrays were away. He was behind the house checking on the Murrays' generator when he heard the tree crash onto the house.

"The tree landed right in their bedroom," Edwards said. "The gash that was in that roof; you feel helpless that you can't do anything. It's a terrible feeling."

Fearing the gas lines running into the Murray's home might rupture, Edwards first called the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, which sent two trucks faster than he expected.

"The fire department came quick that night," Edwards said. "I know the station's not that far away, but they came here really quick." He then called Patrick Murray in Texas.