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Trying to anticipate the dangers overhead

While most in the region were shoveling sidewalks and uncovering cars, Allen Born and his neighbors were launching snow off their roofs.

They were worried that the wet and heavy 3 1/2- to 4-foot drifts would prove too much for their flat-roofed HarborView homes. State and local officials have had reports of roof collapses - with no major injuries - at a Baltimore church, a school and warehouse in Southern Maryland, and two Howard County barns.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said Sunday that anyone with a flat roof ought to shovel off the snow without delay.

"The weight if unattended could crush the roof," he said. "In the past there have been injuries and fatalities."

The most famous was 88 years ago in Washington, when the Knickerbocker Theatre's snow-laden roof gave way, killing nearly 100 and injuring many more.

No one was hurt but the property damage was considerable when the B&O Railroad Museum's roundhouse roof caved seven years ago. The roof buckled under about 28 inches of snow that a storm dumped on the region.

So Born, an investment banker, didn't want to take a chance with his roof. It wasn't just the sheer amount that worried him, but how different this snow was, compared with the light and powdery flakes the area got in December.

"This stuff was really, really heavy," said Born, who said he, his wife and their neighbors had to heave it onto the nearest street to avoid hitting decks. "It had to be hundreds of pounds' worth of snow that ended up on Key Highway."

The weighty snow has also proved too much for many trees across the region. Some fell or dropped limbs on power lines, cutting off electricity to tens of thousands of residents. Some blocked roads. And some were uprooted completely in a number of neighborhoods, damaging vehicles and property. Howard County police said no one was injured when a tree fell onto a Laurel home Saturday night.

More trouble could come as snow shifts, melts or sits too long on weak surfaces. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. warned residents to brace for new outages "as trees and tree limbs weighted down with heavy wet snow could still fall onto power lines and other electric equipment."

Nationwide Insurance said Sunday afternoon that it had 260 claims of storm damage to homes and 21 claims of auto damage in Maryland, Washington, Virginia and Delaware. Company spokeswoman Elizabeth Stelzer couldn't say yet how that compares with past storms, because those claims could just be scratching the surface. It often takes people a few days "to dig out and report their claim," she said.

Steve Gondol, who lives in Baltimore's Patterson Park neighborhood, figures the owner of a truck parked on his block doesn't yet realize that a tree snapped in the storm and landed on the hood.

"We actually are not sure whose vehicle it is," said Gondol, who works at the nonprofit Live Baltimore. "They're going to be pretty upset when they come by."

Snow alone - no trees - was enough to cause minor damage to the Kahl family home in Parkville, just inside the city line. Sam Kahl, 14, was standing in his backyard when snow slid off the roof and onto the porch awning, buckling it.

"I guess that was the extra straw on the camel," he said.

Born, the HarborView resident who shoveled snow off his roof to lighten the load, didn't have to go up a ladder to get there. He has an entry point from his fourth floor.

But Gondol, whose Patterson Park rowhouse is also flat-roofed, doesn't have that sort of easy access. Scrambling up there to shovel snow strikes him as a potentially dangerous thing to do.

"I don't need to be that person that's hauled out in an ambulance for sliding off," he said.

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