'It's devastating': Tornado causes extensive damage on Kent Island

Winds from what may have been a tornado left a path of damage through the Stevensville area of Kent Island overnight. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun video)

Gennifer Errigo leapt out of bed as soon as she heard the tornado warning blare from her phone and bolted for her 14-year-old daughter. Before she even made it to her bedroom door, she heard a deafening boom.

A tree had collapsed on the roof of Errigo's Stevensville's home — one of hundreds that would topple across Kent Island in the wee hours of Monday morning as a tornado ripped across the island. She spent the next several minutes huddled in a downstairs half-bathroom with her daughter, mother, three young nephews and two dogs.


Meteorologists said the tornado that tore though the island community was one of the most destructive to hit Maryland in years, tearing the second stories off townhouses, twisting metal electricity poles and ripping massive trees from the ground. One person was injured by falling debris, Queen Anne's County officials said.

When Errigo surveyed the damage Monday, the sight of her house covered by mangled branches brought her to tears.


"It's my home," she said, shaking her head as first responders walked around the yard.

The tornado came from a line of severe storms that brought heavy rain and strong winds across Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey.

Flash flooding was reported across Central Maryland, but the most significant damage in the state was reported on Kent Island, which sits in the middle of the Chesapeake at the foot of the Bay Bridge.

Meteorologists said the tornado formed in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as a waterspout, a type of cyclone that forms over water, about 1:29 a.m. It came ashore in the Bay City community of Kent Island and moved northeast toward Stevensville, lifting off the ground four minutes and two miles later.


Based on the damage, they judged its strength to be an EF-2, packing wind speeds of 111 to 135 miles per hour.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford toured the damaged area Monday morning, first by helicopter and then on foot through the Bay City neighborhood. He said it was too early to determine the total amount of damage, but that residents were lucky to have not suffered worse.

"It's devastating in terms of just seeing the power of the force that came through in this storm," Rutherford said.

Queen Anne's officials asked residents to shelter in place Monday as crews assessed damage and dealt with downed wires, and they opened a shelter at Centreville Middle School where the Red Cross and county social services staff were offering aid.

State police established a command post staffed with 25 officers and civilians at Mowbray Park in Stevensville, and Gov. Larry Hogan said the state "stands ready to assist in any way needed as the community works to rebuild."

Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said that, if necessary, they would press for a federal disaster declaration to make federal funding available for some emergency work, repairs and rebuilding.

A possible tornado damaged homes in Kent Island as storms caused flash flooding across the Baltimore region overnight.

Delmarva Power said about 6,000 customers remained without power Monday afternoon, about one-fourth of the utility's customers in Queen Anne's. As many as 9,000 customers lost power at some point during or after the storm. Most are expected to be restored by 11 a.m. Tuesday and the harder hit areas by 8 p.m., the power company said.

With so many people stuck without electricity, Marcy Witkowski set up a coffee station on her front porch and offered cups to neighbors as they started clean-up efforts.

"I don't think anyone can get out of the neighborhood," said Witkowski, 46, as she stood in her front yard, which was littered with fallen branches. "I wasn't sure if I had enough K-cups to coffee up the whole neighborhood but luckily, I found a stash."

A 70-foot-tall tree in Ron Shaw's backyard snapped in half during the storm, crushing an above-ground pool. Other tree branches punctured his roof and shattered some of his windows. The winds ripped his shed apart, and he found one of its walls in a neighbor's yard. A children's play house that stood in his backyard remained missing.

"There's some damage but everyone is safe and that's what matters," said Shaw, 53. "Nothing in here is worth dying over."

The only injury reported to county officials was a "puncture wound," a spokesman said. The man was treated at University of Maryland Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown and released, a hospital spokesman said.

Lynn Cimaglia has owned Farmer Johns, an outdoor produce stand, for nine years. When she drove up to the stand on Romancoke Road after the storm, she saw that almost the entire store had been blown off its foundation. Crushed watermelons, peaches and tomatoes littered the ground. Wood from what used to be a garage was strewn dozens of feet away.

"I felt like I was in a dream, like this couldn't be real," Cimaglia said. "It's devastating, but we need to just get things organized and move on."

Don Testerman awoke to his younger brother, 14-year-old Brandon, screaming as the tornado moved in. They huddled with their mother in a bathtub until the storm passed.

"It was nonstop shaking," the 27-year-old Testerman said.

The tornado ripped part of their roof off into the front lawn, and the younger Testerman sat on it with his chihuaha, Tippy, Monday morning as the family took in the storm's toll.

Don Testerman said he was just thankful his family escaped the tornado unharmed.

"That stuff," he said of the debris, "is replaceable."

Among the storm's other casualties was a massive Southern Red Oak that was on record as the largest of its kind standing in Queen Anne's County. The tree, which sat on private property off Romancoke Road, appeared to be at least 200 years old, said Sandy Whitley, of the International Society of Arboriculture.

The state's Big Tree Program measured the tree this year, according to its website. It stood 66 feet tall and had a 102.5 foot spread.

"It's sad," Whitley said. "You don't see them like this anymore. It's a loss -- a big loss."

Maryland sees about 10 tornadoes each year, on average, though most cause only minor damage and are rated EF-0, the lowest category on the Enhanced Fujita scale with sustained gusts of up to 85 mph. An EF-2 like the one that hit Monday is identified by damage including roofs torn from well-constructed houses and destruction of mobile homes.

The worst tornado on record in Maryland, rated an EF-4, brought 261 mph winds to La Plata in Southern Maryland on April 28, 2002. It killed five people, injuring more than 100 others and damaging or destroying more than 800 homes.

Tornadoes on Kent Island are rare. A tornado rated EF-0 was reported July 27, 1994, and an EF-1 twister hit the island March 14, 1978, according to data from a Vermont-based group called the Tornado Project that dates back to 1970. An EF-2 tornado had not hit Queen Anne's County since 1976.

Robert Hope said he felt lucky to have sustained little property damage and no injuries.

Hope, 47, said his 13-year-old daughter clung to him while the storm rumbled through the neighborhood, sounding like a freight train. Hope had been through Hurricane Sandy and other bad storms, but nothing like this. With this one, he said, there was no time to prepare.


"You're just at the mercy of God and Mother Nature," Hope said.


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