Tornado with 125 mph winds causes extensive damage on Kent Island

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A tornado with 125 mph wind gusts tore a path of damage through the Stevensville area of Kent Island overnight.

Homes were destroyed, large trees toppled and metal electricity poles twisted in the Bay City neighborhood, on the western shore of the island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. One injury was reported, Queen Anne’s County officials said.

The National Weather Service said the twister was rated an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, making it one of the most destructive tornadoes to hit the state in years.

“It felt like a rock concert with how loud it was,” said Don Testerman, 27, whose family’s home was shoved off its foundation and deemed unsafe to enter Monday morning.

The damage came as a line of severe storms brought heavy rain and strong winds across Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey. Flash flooding was reported across Central Maryland, but the most significant damage in the state was reported on Kent Island.

Queen Anne’s officials asked residents to shelter in place Monday morning as crews assessed damage and dealt with downed wires. Delmarva Power said 6,000 customers remained without power around midday Monday, after crews restored more than 3,000 outages.

A shelter was set up at Centreville Middle School. Any summertime activities at Queen Anne’s schools were canceled, and the Red Cross was brought in.

The only injury reported to county officials was a “puncture wound,” a spokesman said. The man was treated at University of Maryland Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown and released, a hospital spokesman said.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford toured the damaged area Monday morning, first by helicopter and then on foot through the Bay City neighborhood.

He said state and local officials are still assessing the damage from Sunday night’s storm, but that it appeared a tornado touched down. He said the area is "lucky" the damage wasn't worse.

Members of one family in the Bay City community said the storm was so powerful it uprooted houses.

"Loudest 45 minutes of my life," said Deidre Harash, 51.

Ron Shaw was laying in bed with his wife, when suddenly, "it sounded like there were 30 or 40 kids throwing baseballs at the house."

Strong wind whipped pinecones through the air, pelleting the Shaws' Stevensville home. Through the noise, Shaw heard the tornado warning blaring on his wife's phone.

He told their daughters, 26 and 14, to get in the bathroom downstairs, and together they waited out the storm.

When it was over, Shaw could begin to survey the damage. A 70-foot-tall tree in his backyard had snapped in half, crushing the pool below. Other tree branches punctured his roof and shattered some of his windows.

The winds ripped his shed apart, and he found one wall of it in a neighbor's yard. At least one of the toys from his backyard is still missing.

"There's some damage but everyone is safe and that's what matters," said Shaw, 53. "Nothing in here is worth dying over."

One of his neighbors, Robert Hope, said he also felt lucky to have sustained little property damage and no injuries.

Hope said his 13-year-old daughter clung to him while the storm moved through the neighborhood, sounding like a freight train. Hope had been through Hurricane Sandy and other bad storms, but nothing like this. With this one, he said, there was no time to prepare.

"You're just at the mercy of God and Mother Nature," said Hope, 47.

As Hope checked out his front yard Monday morning, neighbors drove by to make sure everyone was OK and offer help with clean-up.

With so many people stuck without power, Marcy Witkowski set up a coffee station on her front porch.

"I don't think anyone can get out of the neighborhood," said Witkowski, 46, as she stood in her front yard, which was littered with fallen branches. "I wasn't sure if I had enough K-cups to coffee up the whole neighborhood but luckily, I found a stash."

Meteorologists said the tornado formed in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as a waterspout, a type of cyclone that forms over water, about 1:29 a.m. It came ashore in the Bay City community of Kent Island and moved northeast toward Stevensville, lifting off the ground four minutes and two miles later.

Maryland sees about 10 tornadoes each year, on average, though most cause only minor damage and are rated EF-0, the lowest category on the Enhanced Fujita scale with sustained gusts of up to 85 mph. The extent of damage on Kent Island suggests that if a tornado was responsible, it could get a higher rating on the scale.

The worst tornado on record in Maryland brought 261 mph winds to La Plata in Southern Maryland on April 28, 2002. It killed five people, injuring more than 100 and damaging or destroying more than 800 homes.

Tornadoes on Kent Island are rare. A tornado rated EF-0 was reported July 27, 1994, and an EF-1 twister hit the island March 14, 1978, according to data from a Vermont-based group called the Tornado Project that dates back to 1970.

Heavy precipitation and flooding from the storms was widespread.

According to the National Weather Service, about four inches of rain fell in the Aberdeen area, 3.81 inches of rain fell near Darlington, and 3.25 inches came down in Norrisville.

The storm dumped its heaviest rains on northern Delaware, where 7.44 inches was reported in the town of Winterthur. Nearly 6 inches were reported in the Philadelphia suburbs of Pennsylvania, and more than 4 inches in parts of southern New Jersey.

In Maryland, more than two inches of rain was also reported in Taneytown in Carroll County, and in Port Tobacco in Charles County.

Rain flooded some areas of Harford County late Sunday afternoon into the evening, with more rain falling overnight.

Several roads were flooded in the area, including Route 40 at Beards Hill Road, which was temporarily closed for high water, according to Harford County fire department and local volunteer fire companies.

All roads that were affected by flooding in the Havre de Grace area reopened by 8:30 p.m., police said.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Carrie Wells, Sean Welsh and Erika Butler contributed to this story.

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