The structure once functioned as City Hall and has served as a police and a fire station. Most recently, it housed the Laurel Regional Hospital Auxiliary and a thrift shop.
"Everyone has a memory of that building," Collins said. "I grew up here, and I'm used to seeing it every day. It's going to be a real shock not to see it anymore."
Collins estimated that the city had sustained millions of dollars in damage and said it would take weeks to clean up the wreckage. Late Monday night, Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared a state of emergency in Prince George's and Howard counties.
"Citizens are just overwhelmed at what they are seeing," Collins said. "It was hard to tell how bad it was at night. Now that we're in the daylight, it's just sad."
Working to a background symphony of wood chippers and chainsaws, residents and county employees began cleaning up just after the sun rose yesterday.
A few blocks southwest of the historic district, Vice Principal Robert E. Tafares stood outside Laurel High School directing traffic. The annex that housed the social studies department lost its roof, and cinder blocks were tossed all over the six rooms of the structure.
"It looks like a bomb hit," said Tafares, a retired Air Force colonel. But the social studies teachers were already making plans for conducting classes without their classrooms.
"They're fired up to overcome this," Tafares said. "But I think that's the sentiment of the whole country right now -- we can overcome anything."
Leaves and wood pulp carpeted Tenth Street and Turney Avenue near their intersection in the hard-hit residential neighborhood of Fairlawn. Up and down the streets, residents were picking up tree branches in their yards and, in some cases, out of their homes.
Ron Garrett, 33, stood watch yesterday on a mound of debris in the 1000 block of Tenth St. where his single-family home once stood. The house had been reduced to a tumble of couches, broken pieces of wooden frame and a few barely standing walls.