Officials ID two men killed when tornado hit Amazon center in Baltimore; second twister in Carroll County confirmed

The Baltimore Sun

The National Weather Service has confirmed that a tornado struck Baltimore City and County Friday night, resulting in the partial collapse of an Amazon warehouse where two people were killed, and causing heavy damage at a nearby Dundalk apartment complex.

The forecasting agency said later Saturday that a second tornado had touched down in Carroll County, damaging a shopping center.

The two men died at the Amazon distribution center in Southeast Baltimore when a wall collapsed during the storm. The body of one man was discovered under debris Friday night; firefighters recovered the second man’s body Saturday morning.

The deceased were identified as Andrew Lindsey, 54, and Israel Espana Argote, 37.

Weather service officials spent much of Saturday at the scenes evaluating damage, and later rated both storms EF-1, a low-level tornado but still serious enough to cause significant damage. The Baltimore storm brought winds of up to 105 mph along its 2.5-mile path, officials said.

It is the first fatal tornado in Maryland since 2002.

Baltimore Fire Chief Roman Clark said a 50-foot wall collapsed at the Amazon Fulfillment Center on Broening Highway. The man found under debris Friday night was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The body of the second man was recovered around 7:30 a.m. Saturday after firefighters used heavy equipment to remove debris.

Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said the two killed were not employees of the online retail giant, but worked for outside contractors. She said the first man found — who fire officials said was Lindsey — worked for real estate consulting firm JLL. A spokeswoman for JLL said he had worked for the company as a material handling technician for about a year.

Espana, the second man found, owned a trucking company that contracted with Amazon, according to a family friend. The friend, who asked not be named, said Espana immigrated to the United States from Bolivia a decade ago and initially lived with his brother in Maryland. He got married and moved to Bristow, Va, the friend said. He had three children.

The Amazon building was closed Saturday and Lighty said it would remain closed into Sunday.

“The safety of our employees and contractors is our top priority and at this time the building remains closed,” she said. “We are incredibly thankful for the quick response from emergency services. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families impacted by [Friday] night’s tragic event.”

Dave Bowers, a meteorologist at Accuweather, said a mass of warm, wet air hung over Baltimore on Friday evening and collided with a cold front being pulled by a storm that began in the Midwest.

“It’s just a very unstable setup… a recipe for nasty weather,” Bowers said.

The combination led to damage as far north as Boston, but Bowers said the Baltimore area appeared to be among the worst hit.

According to the NWS, the tornado touched down at 9:42 p.m. It first blew over a tractor trailer on Interstate 95 before moving east and blasting through garage doors at a van rental facility.

Officials said the storm became most severe as it reached the Amazon building, pulling off part of the roof — including iron rafters. Once the wall came off, concrete panels collapsed. The storm also moved a dozen truck trailers and picked up debris that smashed car windows.

Images taken from outside the facility showed a badly damaged truck and a knocked over light pole, among other damage. Roads around the facility were filled with debris.

Dave Oster, 44, an employee at Amazon, said he was in his car in the parking lot Friday before his shift began at 10:30 p.m. The Pikesville resident said he felt his Chevy Malibu shake in the wind.

“My car felt like it was going to get tossed,” he said. “All of the cars looked like they were going to get tossed.”

After a few seconds, he noticed the wind direction change abruptly.

“It went left to right, then right to left a second later. And then that was it. The rain was just blasting,” Oster said. He said it felt like tornadoes he experienced while living in Colorado.

“It was very, very violent,” he said. “I was scared,”

After a few minutes he said he heard sirens of responding fire trucks.

Weather service officials said the storm continued east, and a firefighter reported seeing swirling debris and a funnel cloud. The tornado briefly lifted before touching down again at the Holabird East apartment complex in Dundalk, pulling the roof off one building completely. Baltimore County officials said there were no reports of injuries, but several tenants were displaced.

The NWS review indicated that in addition to the two men killed, one injury occurred in the storm, though no information was available.

Weather service teams also evaluated the area in Carroll County that experienced similar storm damage. That tornado began at 8:20 p.m. in Howard County before crossing over into Carroll, where it pulled down trees.

Then, in Mount Airy it damaged the gas station canopy at High’s Dairy Store, the weather service said. Nearby, at the T.J. Maxx & HomeGoods store in the Twin Arch Shopping Center in Mount Airy, sections of ceiling collapsed, according to Doug Alexander, spokesman for the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Co. Three minor injuries were reported, but all refused treatment and transport, he said.

As it continued north, the tornado took the roofs of several buildings at Knills Farm Market and destroyed a silo. It snapped power poles and pine trees, leading the weather service to estimate that the winds were blowing at 100 mph, and damaged a few houses on Arrowwood Circle.

By the time the tornado was over it had traveled more than 4.5 miles.

Gov. Larry Hogan said in a Twitter post Saturday that the Maryland Emergency Management Agency was assisting in cleaning up damage. He offered condolences “to the families and friends of the victims.”

The warehouse deaths were the first tornado-related fatalities in Maryland since 2002, when three people were killed when a twister hit La Plata.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Scott Dance and Catalina Righter contributed to this article.

NOTE: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Israel Espana Argote. It has been corrected here.

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