"It was through in 20 seconds; it's hard to believe so much damage could happen in so little time," Brian Schorr said as he stood outside his Fallston home Saturday morning.
Schorr's home is the first in a group of 20 three-story, detached homes with narrow lots on the north side of the 200 block of Milton Avenue, just off Belair Road, where what several witnesses say was a tornado swept through around 6 p.m. Friday, shearing or uprooting trees and damaging homes and businesses.
Schorr lives in the home with his wife and their two children, ages 7 and 9. He was home alone with the family dog when the storm came through.
"It was nothing like I've ever experienced," said Schorr, who has lived in the neighborhood called Fallston Crossing for seven years. The 100 or so homes were built on the site of the former Fallston General Hospital.
Schorr, whose home appeared to have suffered the most damage, said about half his roof was gone but there appeared to be no structural damage to his home. Part of his deck was twisted in an odd way, probably meaning it will have to be taken down and rebuilt. The supports of a few decks on other houses in the row snapped off midway from the ground.
Not long after the storm hit, an emergency contractor came through the community and helped get the roof covered and stabilized, Schorr said. Throughout Saturday morning, pickups with ladders, work trucks, a truck hauling a wood chipper and roofer's trucks drove slowly through the community looking for work.
"It's amazing how they apparently follow disaster to disaster," Schorr said, though he was very thankful the people who helped him with the roof had come by.
Schorr, who works at the Sparrows Point steel mill, had a doubly bad week. The mill is on the verge of closing, and he said he expects to be laid off any day. "I'm waiting for number three to happen," he added.
"Thankfully, nobody got hurt, that's the main thing," he said, as his daughter, Sophie, brought some of the downed tree branches to the curb in her wagon.
Another Milton Avenue resident, a woman who declined to give her name, said she was home with her infant twins and saw the funnel cloud go through behind the houses. She said she had never seen a tornado before, but was sure she of what she saw.
"Yes, we were scared," she said. "We got the warning to take shelter, but I had to think what was my 'safe room.'" The houses all have walk-out basements. Half have a ground floor room without windows, the other half don't, she and a neighbor explained.
Judging from the damage in the area, which was reported from the area of Whitaker Mill and Old Joppa roads to around Harford and Connolly roads, the twister moved northeast to southwest, if it was in fact a twister. One photograph posted on Facebook by a person driving through the area at the time suggests it was.
Most of the homes along Schorr's stretch of Milton Avenue suffered damage ranging from roof shingles, shutters, siding, trim and gutters being blown off to decks and fences ripped up. The twister most likely followed a path behind the homes, as it did even more damage just to the south. Farther into Fallston Crossing, going toward Harford Road, however, there was little or no evidence of damage, save for a few pieces of roof flashing on the ground.
Around the corner from Schorr's home, on West Grove Avenue, a small, dead-end street that parallels Belair Road, Laurie Thomas was directing her daughter where to take photographs for the insurance company.
The Thomas property, which runs behind the homes on Milton Avenue, is used for their family excavating business, S. Thomas Contracting. Laurie Thomas said her husband, Steve, grew up in the 63-year-old brick rancher that is the company's office. The Thomases live in Jarrettsville.
"There's a lot of damage back there," Laurie Thomas said, as she pointed to a lot with several trucks parked along both sides. Trees were down at the far end of the lot, and Thomas said there were dump trucks and bulldozers behind them. "I couldn't even tell one of the trucks was in there because a tree was covering it," she said.
Because it had begun raining about a half hour before the tornado hit, Thomas said her crews had returned from work for the day, picked up their paychecks and left before the damage occurred. No one was in the office, either.
"We're fortunate nobody here was hurt," she said. If the twister had come earlier, she added, "the damage would have been done to their [the employees] vehicles."
Thomas said her insurance company told her the most important thing to do was get photos of all the damage. She said they first realized what happened after seeing televised reports about the storm Friday evening.
"The odd thing is we had just finished a job, and we piled up all those posts," she said, pointing to two dozen or so sign posts leaning along the side of a utility building on the near side of the lot. "Not one of them was moved."
Along came Jones
Then she turned around, stopped and pointed at the ground, and said, "Jones is here."
On the ground lay a 4-by-8 "Jones Junction for Life" sign. "It was over there, across the street," Thomas said," pointing at Belair Road.
Another dwelling just north of Thomas' building is the only residence on West Grove Avenue, which is also home to a body shop and towing and repair service, both which also suffered considerable damage, as did commercial buildings along Route 1 just across from West Grove.
Thomas said the Corun family that lives in the home was inside when the storm came through but everyone got out safely. One elderly man suffered a shoulder or arm injury, however, she said.
Several trees were down in front of the home and a tree crew and a roof repair crew were working, as were electrical crews. Debris was strewn everywhere, and a lot of shingles, pieces of wood and hunks of metal had been piled up in the middle of the street next to an overturned Dumpster.
Electric supply and phone lines lay along the street, as did two sheared off utility poles. Groups of people cluttered here and there surveying the damage at each business. A motorcycle rider came up the street and stopped. "Is it open?" he asked, "I'm trying to get to the shop up there."
Told that there were a lot of wires down and that the street was blocked with debris at the far end, he thought for a second, and said: "I'm not going to try it."
Over at the Harford Professional Building on Belair Road, just across from the entrance to Walmart, two workmen were trying to place a blue tarp over areas of the roof from which shingles had blown away. Next door, at Bel Air Honda, a salesman kicked at a couple of shingles as he walked along a small grassy strip between the highway and cars for sale parked in front of the showroom. Signs were blown out of their frames at Bel Air Honda and at businesses farther south on Belair Road.
At the Wawa at the corner of Belair and Connolly roads, it looked to be business as usual, with people buying gas and drinks and sandwiches and few of the patrons inside talking much about the storm.
More trees, lines down
Just up Connolly from Wawa, a large pine tree was uprooted and sat on its side in front of the Benson Post Office. Around on Harford Road going south, trees and limbs were down in front of houses and houses that are now used for professional buildings in the 1800 and 1900 blocks. Earlier in the day, a BGE crew was making repairs to a pole and line in 1900 block, necessitating closure of the lane for northbound traffic and causing some minor traffic delays.
"I was on the computer when it came through; I hadn't hear the storm warning," said Virginia Sauers, who lives in the 1900 block of Harford Road, in a home her grandfather built in 1923. Sauers still calls the community by its proper name, "Benson," and said she worked at the post office for many years and people started calling her "the mayor of Benson."
Sauers lives alone. Earlier in the day Friday, she had attended the funeral for Gerard Kunkel of Kunkel Service Company, who had been her late husband Jim's employer. She returned home not long before the storm hit.
The tornado crossed over her property, Sauers said, and knocked over several trees along one side of her home, where she has lived since 1961. She thought it had come from the southwest and moved from Harford Road to Belair Road, but maybe it was hard to tell because of the swirling of the winds.
There didn't appear to be any damage to the home, she said. Her daughter and son-and-law and their three children had come by to look and were taking photos. There were shingles and car parts at the rear of the narrow, two-acre property, and some other shingles scattered around the yard. "Not from my roof," Sauers said. "Those are light gray."
There's been plenty of storm damage in the neighborhood in the past, Sauers said, mostly from water or snow. A garage her grandfather had built before the house and which had been his carpentry shop collapsed in one of the 2010 blizzards, she said. She had finally put in a claim with the insurance company, she added, now she might have another.
One of the downed trees on her property was a lovely blue spruce. Sauers said she had gone upstairs to shut her windows when it started raining and saw it fall. "It was a Christmas tree we had planted there, in the 1970s," she said. "I have a photograph from when it was in the house."
This story has been updated and corrected from an earlier version. Brian Schorr's wife and children were not at home when the tornado came through his neighborhood.