A tornado with winds of 75 to 100 miles per hour tore through northwestern Baltimore County yesterday evening, leveling houses and destroying apartments as huge trees flew through the air.
"My house is half-gone, and the house next door is all gone," said Theresa Zinc of the 100 block of Glyndon Drive in Reisterstown, where most of the damage was concentrated.
"Trees were blowing through the air, and all the windows in the house blew out. We covered our heads with rugs and ran screaming."
The Baltimore County Fire Department began dispatching firetrucks, rescue workers and medic units to six square blocks near the Chartley Shopping Center off Main Street in Reisterstown at 4:29 p.m., and the Mass Transit Administration sent six buses to help evacuate the injured or homeless.
Late last night, officials said they had counted more than 300 houses and apartments that had been damaged by the storm. Heaviest-hit were buildings on Shirley Manor Road, Chartley Park Drive and Valley Meadow Circle.
Many residents found shelter with friends or relatives, but about 60 people were left temporarily homeless, and the Red Cross made arrangements to put them up at a Westminster motel.
Despite the devastation, only one serious injury was reported. Dudley Cook, 58, of the Chartley Apartments suffered fractures to his pelvis and thigh after high winds hit his home and the walls collapsed upon him. Surgeons at Sinai Hospital operated on him last night, and he was listed in fair condition.
Seven other patients -- some of them victims of traffic accidents that may not have been related to the tornado -- were taken to Sinai with cuts and bruises.
Three people with minor injuries were taken to Baltimore County General Hospital.
Ralph Nelson, a spokesman for the county Fire Department, said it was "a miracle" that more people weren't seriously injured.
In the 100 block of Glyndon Drive, two apartment buildings had their roofs ripped off and two others had holes punched through second-floor walls by the winds.
Three town houses and a dozen single homes lost their roofs. A large trash bin nestled in the branches of a tree, and cars had been flipped onto their hoods.
Fred A. Davis, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, visited the scene last night and said the storm met the definition of a tornado even though no one saw a funnel cloud.
"The main thing I look for is the trees, whether they're knocked over straight or twisted," he said. "These were twisted."
Josephine Noelte, a 66-year-old resident of the block, said the storm that wrecked her split-level, brick
house "came out of nowhere."
"I was sitting here alone when I heard a 'whoosh,' and then a drone when the house felt like it lifted. It happened in three minutes, and it didn't even go dark," said Mrs. Noelte, sobbing, as rescuers evacuating the neighborhood walked through her house.
"I was all alone, and I don't know what made me run downstairs, but I remembered that's what you're supposed to do. And when I did, all the windows in the basement blew out, and I was down there cowering like a stupid idiot, and I didn't know what to do.
"My roof is off, all the windows are out upstairs and downstairs, and the trees are down in the yard. . . . Somebody's storm door is up in one of the trees, and my side porch was blown off. My car has a tree on it, and rain is leaking into my bedroom."
Robert L. Taylor, the manager of the Super Fresh supermarket in the Chartley Park Shopping Center, said that a strong gust of wind blew in one set of doors to his store, blew things around and then blew out again -- through another set of doors.
"I heard a big roar," said Mr. Taylor, who said customers and employees ducked behind check-out counters for cover. "It ripped out ceiling tiles and sucked down insulation."
Taylor said the violent wind came and went in about 30 seconds.
Baynard Butler, 72, was in his parked vehicle in the lot outsideof the Super Fresh when the winds hit.
"Pieces of the whole [supermarket] were blown off and thrown into the parking lot. You couldn't see a darn thing," said Mr. Butler. "Jiminy Christmas."
When Mr. Butler drove a half-mile back to his Glyndon home, he found the storm had also ripped through his property there.
Giant evergreens that surrounded his 100-year-old house had been knocked into the building, and one had crashed across the 500 block of Bond Avenue, demolishing a neighbor's van.
In Reisterstown, search dogs sniffed through rubble in case anyone was buried beneath collapsed walls and roofs.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer toured the damaged neighborhood but said it did not appear bad enough to warrant designation as a federal disaster area.
Residents who tried to get back into tornado-struck homes last night were stopped by authorities still sorting through the damage.
Families seeking shelter for the night were initially sent to Franklin Middle School in Reisterstown, where wrestling mats were laid out in the gym with blankets and pillows.
Among them were James Moore, 38, his wife, Alexandra, and daughter, Nicole, whose second-floor Chartley apartment was not extensively damaged but who were not allowed back into the building.
As the evening wore on and a clearer picture emerged of the scale of the disaster, the Red Cross announced that families needing shelter would be housed at the Days Inn in Westminster.
The storm initially caused power outages in 52,000 residences throughout the metropolitan area -- most of them where Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties meet -- as utility lines were toppled by winds.
About 27,600 residences and businesses were still without power by 10:15 p.m.
The storm system that spawned the tornado in Reisterstown produced heavy rains and strong winds across the state, uprooting trees and tearing down power lines well into the evening, according to authorities.
In Howard County, a tree fell across a house in the 5900 block of Camelback Lane in Columbia, causing one wall of the building to collapse. No one was injured.
In the Washington suburbs, a line of related thunderstorms moving east through Prince George's County at about 4:30 p.m. downed trees and several caused power outages. Some secondary roads in Montgomery County were closed because of accidents or standing water.
When it was over, Josephine Noelte looked out one of her many empty windows and was almost as startled as she had been by the storm. "I'm looking out at a rainbow," she said.
Where to send aid
The Red Cross says anyone wishing to donate money to helpfamilies hit by the tornado should call 764-7000 for information.The Red Cross says there is no urgent need for donations foodor clothing in this case.
The number to call if you need help is 764-4627.
Franklin Middle School at 120 Main St., Reisterstown, has been designated by Baltimore County police as the public information center for people whose homes were damaged by yesterday's tornado.
E. Jay Miller, a police spokesman, said the school cafeteria and gymnasium will be open from 7 a.m. today, staffed by police and county building inspectors.
If a house can be entered, police will assist residents going inside. If a house is uninhabitable but not condemned, police will help the homeowner retrieve valuables and other property.
A house that has been condemned, police said, may not be entered under any circumstances.