Reminders of storm's wrath linger Cleanup could take more than a month


The thunderstorm that blew through Columbia 11 days ago was perhaps the most destructive ever in the community, leaving a swath of fallen trees that could take more than a month to clean up, Columbia officials say.

Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy said that more than 30 workers had logged more than 900 hours as of Thursday to clear fallen trees from paths and playgrounds. Forty-four dump truck loads of wood chips -- almost all from East Columbia neighborhoods -- had been hauled, "with many more to come," he said.

The crews have cleared recreational areas, where safety was a concern, said Fred Pryor, director of the association's open space division. He estimated it would take a month more to clean up destruction in more expansive, woody areas.

Destruction from the high winds and lightning July 14 was concentrated in Owen Brown village, where the association counted 108 fallen trees in areas around paths and a destroyed foot bridge. Another 35 trees fell in Kings Contrivance village and in Long Reach village. West Columbia suffered minimal damage.

"In the area of Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance, in terms of tree damage, this is the worst I've seen," said Mr. Pryor, who has directed the association's open space division since 1973.

A storm that cut through Wilde Lake village several years ago caused significant damage, but didn't fell as many trees, he said.

Columbia Council chairwoman Karen Kuecker of Owen Brown village called the storm a "very devastating experience" and complimented the association and county crews for their prompt cleanup.

"It will take years to recover. Trees are gone. You can see back yards you never saw before," she said.

Dorothy Hersi, Owen Brown village board chairwoman, also praised the association's crews. "There's still a lot of work to be done," she said. "Based on their resources, they're really doing a good job."

Dr. Hersi said the storm pulled the community together as residents helped each other drag trees out of streets and driveways. "It was really heartwarming," she said.

The Columbia Association doesn't have a contingency budget for natural disasters, said Mr. Kennedy, adding that too much work remains to be done to estimate the total cost of the cleanup. The cost will have to be made up through savings elsewhere in the budget at fiscal year's end, he said.

Thirty to 40 county public works employees spent approximately three days clearing fallen trees from streets in East Columbia, Guilford and North Laurel, said James Irvin, public works director. The county has an overtime budget for snow removal and storm emergencies.

"We're pretty much finished with the bulk of our cleanup, but homeowners still have a lot to deal with," he said.

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