The Heat Is Online

Tornadoes, Thunderstorms Hit Eastern U.S.

Southern Maryland tornado was killer twister

Reuters News Service, April 30, 2002

WASHINGTON - A killer tornado that tore through southern Maryland on the weekend was the fiercest twister to hit the mid-Atlantic state in modern history, a monster storm capable of tossing cars the length of a football field, officials said yesterday.

The most powerful category of tornado, an "F5", packing winds of 261-318 mph (418-509 kph), left two dead and 95 injured in the town of La Plata, Maryland, 25 miles (40 km) south of Washington, when it touched down on Sunday evening, ripping roofs off many homes and stores, obliterating other houses, tearing down power lines and ripping up large trees.

La Plata, in Charles County, was one of several towns across the Eastern and Midwestern United States that were hit by a string of weekend tornadoes and thunderstorms that caused a total of 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries.

Some 30 tornadoes were spawned on Sunday by a series of strong spring thunderstorms that drenched states from Kentucky in the South to New York in the North, and from Missouri in the West to Maryland in the East.

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening declared a state of emergency for Charles and Calvert counties, where the most powerful tornado left a 12-mile (19 km) path of destruction.

The National Weather Service said damage assessment teams had determined that an "F5" tornado on the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale, the most destructive of five categories of tornado capable of blowing strong wood frame homes off their foundations, had touched down in Charles County.

Nina Voehl, public information officer for Charles County government, identified one of the dead as William Erickson, 51, whose home collapsed on him as the twister cut through about 7 p.m. (2300 GMT).

A second Charles County man died of a stroke in his car as the storm hit, while an elderly woman was killed when her home collapsed in neighboring Calvert County.

"We're winding up the search-and-rescue effort. No one is missing," Voehl said earlier yesterday. "We still don't have figures on what the extent of the damage is, but there are engineers out there now doing assessments."


Thousands were still without power and hundreds were homeless following the tornado, which flattened much of the central business district of La Plata. It was the first major tornado to strike the area since the early 1930s.

Storms struck western Kentucky before dawn on Sunday, killing one man, injuring at least 30 people and damaging or destroying 146 homes, state emergency officials said.

In southeast Missouri a 12-year-old boy was killed by a twister as a severe thunderstorm rolled through rural Bollinger County.

One woman was killed in a tornado that touched down in Dongola, Illinois, after a series of severe storms moved through the southern tip of Illinois. Homes were damaged, trees uprooted and power lines downed in the rural communities of Glatia and Cypress, also in southern Illinois.

In the upper Midwest, the weekend storms turned spring back into winter. Four people were killed in Minnesota in accidents on snow-slicked roads on Saturday and some residents of northern Wisconsin, where as much as 20 inches (50.8 cm) of snow fell, were still without power yesterday.

The U.S. tornado season has been slow in starting this year because of unusual weather patterns. It was only a week ago that the first tornado death was reported - in southern Illinois - the latest into the season that such a fatality has been reported since records have been kept.


Tornadoes Kill 6 From Mo. to Md.

The Associated Press, April 29, 2002

LA PLATA, Md. -- Tornado-ravaged cities from Missouri to Maryland picked up the pieces Monday after an unusually wide and potent swath of thunderstorms plowed across the eastern half of the nation, killing at least six people.

Maryland was hit especially hard Sunday evening, with a tornado causing at least three deaths and 93 injuries in two counties south of the nation's capital. A twister caused serious damage to at least a 10-mile stretch of this town of about 6,500 -- even leveling part of a school.

"They're banged up and shocked, and they're frightened," Civista Medical Center chief executive Chris Stefanides said of the injured. "I don't think they've ever really seen anything like this before."

Jack Cahalan, a spokesman with the Maryland Emergency Management Administration, said Monday that 12 people were critically injured and 81 others had minor to serious injuries.

One of those killed was 74-year-old Margaret Albey of Prince Frederick. Her husband, George, was critically injured, said Calvert County sheriff's Sgt. Rick Thomas.

"The house is gone," Thomas said of the Albeys' home. "It's moved probably 80 yards down and into a ravine. They were in the house and trapped in the rubble."

A curfew was set in La Plata to keep people off the streets, and all public schools in Charles County were closed, officials said. About 6,500 customers in the area were without power early Monday.

Thunderstorms struck states throughout the Tennessee and Ohio valleys on Sunday before continuing east to Maryland. The northern edge of the system brought heavy snow to Wisconsin and Minnesota.

In Missouri, a tornado packing wind of up to 180 mph and roughly two football fields wide plowed through the small town of Marble Hill, hurling a 12-year-old boy 50 yards to his death. At least 16 people were injured and several homes were destroyed.

"It took several houses completely away. Blown to sticks -- nothing left but the subfloor," Marble Hill Police Sgt. Dennis Willis said.

The boy, Billy Hoover, was on a sleepover with friends when the tornado touched down. Two of his friends in the house walked away, as did two other occupants, but the house was left in ruins, Bollinger County Sheriff Terry Wiseman said.

"That was my first tornado, and if I don't see another one, that'd be fine," said Bollinger County Sheriff coroner Charles Hutchings.

The tornado also tossed vehicles, razed buildings and twisted tractor-trailers before the storms raced eastward.

At least 30 people were injured in Providence and Irvington, Ky., where Billy Garrett, 52, died when he was thrown about 200 feet from his mobile home, said Breckinridge County Coroner Bob Rhodes.

Dozens were injured in southern Illinois and a 69-year-old woman was found dead outside her home in the town of Dongola. In nearby Cypress, two second-floor classrooms of the brick Cypress Grade School were missing a roof and walls.

The tiny town of Tobinsport sustained the heaviest storm damage in Indiana. A dozen people were injured and 10 of the 30 homes in the unincorporated community 60 miles east of Evansville were destroyed.

Another twister cut a 5-mile-long path through northeastern Ohio, destroying one home in Stark County and damaging about 75 others. Police said there were no deaths or serious injuries. High wind and hail the size of golf balls damaged rooftops and cars throughout the state.

In Tennessee, a tornado cut a 10-mile path through the Murfreesboro area, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, injuring 18 people and damaging 62 homes and buildings. Wind reached 140 mph.

Heavy rain and wind exceeding 55 mph blew through Pennsylvania, blowing the roofs off buildings and leaving thousands in the Pittsburgh area without power. Hail as big as golf balls in West Virginia was accompanied by up to 2 inches of rain that caused minor flooding.

Western New York state also had a tornado, which destroyed a house, garage and barn near Belfast, National Weather Service meteorologists confirmed on Monday.