Storm tears across state

The Baltimore Sun

Several tornadoes ripped through the state yesterday as part of a weather system that killed one person in the Washington area, tore roofs off buildings, crushed cars, uprooted trees, collapsed a loading crane and disrupted public transportation throughout the region.

Officials from the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., said they received reports of tornadoes touching down in Severna Park and near the Bay Bridge.

Meteorologist Luis Rosa reported extensive damage to homes in Severna Park by evening but said no damage to the bridge had been reported. Rosa said crews will investigate the damaged areas today to officially determine whether tornadoes hit.

Rosa said the highest wind gusts reached 78 mph in Frederick. The storm knocked out power for more than 500,000 people in the state, according to Katie Leahan, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

The severe weather system moved into the Washington area about 3 p.m. and sent a deluge of rain and heavy wind throughout Southern Maryland. The region, including Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, remained under a tornado watch until 8 o'clock last night.

A Fairfax County, Va., police spokeswoman, Officer Shelley Broderick, said one person was killed in the Annandale area when a tree fell on a vehicle.

In Maryland, the mayor of Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County said a tornado briefly hit the city, sending trees into about 14 houses. Gerald Donovan said that the storm lasted about two minutes and that the occupants of the damaged homes would be placed in nearby hotels.

Traders Seafood Steak and Ale, one of the city's landmarks, was the hardest-hit building, he said.

The two-story vinyl and brick building had part of its roof blown off while 25 customers and 10 workers were inside. Four people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The roof landed on the wire of a utility pole about 25 feet away.

"All of a sudden, it was dark and a huge gust of wind came up," said John Hawkins, 19, a cook at the restaurant. "Everybody ran. The doors in the whole building blew open."

In Washington County, south of Hagerstown, high winds created damage in and around Boonsboro, Keedysville, Rohrersville and Sharpsburg.

One house reportedly collapsed, and there were numerous reports of homes damaged by falling trees, downed power lines and blocked roads, according to Verna Brown, Washington County's emergency management coordinator. She said some residents reported seeing a funnel cloud.

Leahan, of MEMA, reported 15 houses with severe structural damage countywide.

State Routes 34 and 65 near Sharpsburg were among many roads blocked by the storm. The Red Cross arranged emergency shelter for families whose homes had been rendered unlivable by high winds or fallen trees.

No fatalities were reported, and Brown said injuries may have been minimized because children were still in school and residents at work when the storm struck in midafternoon.

Anne Arundel County Fire Battalion Chief Matthew Tobia said there were reports of a tornado skipping through the county, starting near Tracys Landing and moving diagonally through St. Margaret's and Cape St. Claire.

Tobia said fire crews were "extremely busy" dealing with structure fires, blocked roads and traffic accidents.

Firefighters had also received reports of downed trees and wires, as well as possible structural damage in the Round Bay community near Arnold and Cape St. Claire, where the power was out.

With no working signals and tree limbs and branches littering Ritchie Highway, traffic on one of the area's major north-south thoroughfares moved at a crawl through rush hour.

Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold was in the middle of a retirees' recognition ceremony just before 4 p.m. when an emergency siren went off and staff and students received automated text messages on their cell phones, warning of a possible tornado and ordering them to take cover.

Officials escorted 125 people at the ceremony into a windowless basement until public safety officers gave the all-clear 15 to 20 minutes later, said Linda Schulte, a college spokeswoman.

Bayberry Drive in Arnold was struck particularly hard. Allison Davis, 39, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, discovered that a giant tree had smashed onto the garage and six or seven other thick trees had been uprooted when she arrived with her children.

"We came home during the storm, after a very scary ride home," she said. "Trees were falling. We basically got to the house, ran inside, grabbed the dogs and ran into the basement."

Across the street, a 20-inch-thick tree fall from one yard onto a neighbor's garage - and the gray 2002 Porche Boxer it sheltered.

"We've had a lot of storms ... but nothing like this," said Rich Stewart, 55, president of Datacare Inc. "I'm on the verge of tears. I'm devastated. That's my baby in there."

In Sparrows Point, two steel mill workers were temporarily stranded in the cab of a crane that collapsed beneath them during the storm just after 4 p.m.

Lt. Pierre Thode of the Baltimore County Fire Department said the men reached safety, uninjured, by climbing down a long ladder extended from a fire truck.

Thode said the men weren't pinned in the cab but were left without a way down when the crane's ladder gave way in the collapse. The crane had been unloading ore from a barge.

In Calvert County, the sheriff's office said several tornado sightings were reported, but none appeared to touch down. Authorities said trees fell on homes in North Beach, but no injuries were reported.

On the Eastern Shore, westbound U.S. 50 was closed for more than an hour during the evening rush because of a downed tree near U.S. 301. And in the town of Preston, volunteer firefighters scrambled to remove several trees that toppled onto houses.

No injuries were reported.

"We had winds up to 53 mph and a gust of 60," said Cheryl Sparks, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority at the Bay Bridge.

In southern Washington County, officials reported downed trees and utility poles. Jason Kline of Washington County Emergency Services called damage near Sharpsburg and Rohrersville "significant" but he said no tornadoes had been confirmed.

Afternoon storms also hampered removal of a cement truck overturned on Interstate 70 in the Frederick area.

The storm disrupted MARC commuter train service, halting the Brunswick and Camden lines because of fallen trees.

Amy Novotney, who works near Union Station in Washington, said she could not take her usual route home on the Camden line from South Baitimore because of the weather but made it to her home in Federal Hill with a slight detour via the Penn line.

"And it was packed, standing room only," Novotney said.

At Bella's restaurant in Cape St. Claire, about two dozen customers sipped beer by candlelight. The power had been knocked out in the community shopping center, and employees of other establishments waited out the storm.

But Bella's owner, Bonnie Morgan, forged ahead. "People don't have any lights on at home, so they come here to have a beer. We'll keep it going till it gets dark out," said Morgan, 67.

In Howard County, police reported numerous downed trees, including one that fell across three lanes of U.S. 29 near Old Columbia Road. Another tree hit an unoccupied car at Old Montgomery Road. Howard County Community College was evacuated after reports of a tornado sighting.

Sun reporters John-John Williams IV, Candus Thompson, Tim Wheeler, Nicole Fuller, Justin Fenton, Chris Guy, Richard Irwin, Andrea Walker, Gadi Dechter, Melissa Harris, Steven Stanek, Karen Shih and Jasmine Jernberg and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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