Couple was lucky to be away when tree fell on their Bel Air home

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.

"That was a hard phone call to make," Edwards said.

"They're all pretty good neighbors," Edwards said of the people in his neighborhood. "Everybody tries to help each other. That's what it's all about."

Edwards himself escaped any damage to his home, only having leaves blow into his yard.

"We dodged a bullet on his one," Edwards said. " I was listening to the news on the radio and I heard we had part of the eye pass through, but the winds died down to 20-25 miles an hour. I think that's what saved us."

Edwards was pleasantly surprised the electricity in the neighborhood was only out from Monday evening until Wednesday afternoon.

"It seems like BG&E got their game on," Edwards said. "The utility company came up and said we've got power, and I was like 'wow.' "

Edwards, who works in construction and owns ladders, a chain saw and other helpful equipment, also helped the residents at 1216 St. Francis Drive, who also had a tree fall on their home.

"I was able cut the tree out of [1216]," Edwards said. "[The home] didn't take as much water damage."

"But this house," Edwards said, pointing across the street, "It [the tree] was just too big."

"Our development is called Marywood, but it sure wasn't merry that night," Edwards said.

Assessing, repairing damage

Rich Truitt, deputy director of Inspections, Licenses and Permits - Building Services for Harford County, said that the county had already completed its damage assessment of the two Marywood homes and it had already been sent to county emergency operations. From there, the assessment will go to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA, and in turn get sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Homeowners have to follow necessary steps when assessing damage to their homes, Truitt said.

"Homeowners would first have to contact their insurance agencies, and from there insurance adjusters will work with them to file the claim and work to getting a contractor involved to make the repairs," Truitt said. "From a county standpoint we will work with them to get through the system and get the necessary permits."

Truitt also had a message for homeowners making repairs on their home from storm damage.

"Make sure that anybody that is working with a contractor to do repairs should verify that the contractor is licensed through the Maryland Home Improvement Commission," Truitt said. "It's state law that anyone working on homes has to be licensed."

"Many times we'll start to see in these areas contractors that are not licensed in the area that come in to pick up work, and those are the ones that we typically have problems with," Truitt added.

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