Severe storms take a toll on Bladensburg

June 23, 2012

Displaced residents of one narrow slice of Bladensburg struggled to reassemble their lives Saturday, the morning after severe storms tore through the area, uprooting 40-foot -tall trees, ripping off the roofs of multiple buildings, and smashing cars and power lines.

As Friday’s storms pelted the region with rain and scattered hail, a microburst — a small, concentrated downdraft — struck the Maryland suburb. According to the Prince George’s County Office of Homeland Security, the blast of wind damaged 15 multifamily buildings and a house and caused structural damage on Newton Street between 52nd and 55th avenues. At least 70 residents were displaced, according to the American Red Cross.

The scene on Newton seemed like a disaster zone Saturday. There were six-foot piles of debris in the road. One condominium’s wall was partly caved in, and shattered glass and wires covered patches of the ground. Insulation from roofs was scattered around nearby trees, many of which had thick branches — some nearly two feet in diameter — snapped by the winds.

Starsha Sewell, 31, looked forlornly at her dark blue Dodge Durango, which she had parked along the side of the road before the storm. Part of a roof from a condo at least 50 feet away sat on top of the sport-utility vehicle, its roof smashed in.The impact had knocked the SUV off the road and onto the sidewalk.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life,” Sewell said.

The Prince George’s Fire Department reported a small number of minor injuries. Residents were moved out of affected buildings as inspectors assessed the damage. The Red Cross was on the scene, and a shelter was set up at Bladensburg High School.

Jessica Bylsma, manager of the shelter, said that at least 70 people had reported being displaced by the storm but that she expected the amount to grow. Some of the displaced spent Friday night at Rogers Heights Elementary School. On Saturday, they recounted the chaos of the storm.

“When I went to turn the lights off, I heard the glass shatter,” said Loretta Banks, 30, as she sat outside the school, along with a dozen others. “We live on the ground floor. The roof was on our patio.”

Many wondered how they would get back to normal. They said they were told that they wouldn’t get their homes back for at least three or four months. “I don’t know what I’m going to do ,because I have the baby,” said Kim Haley, pointing to her 7-month-old granddaughter, Noah.

Displaced residents needing assistance were advised to call the Prince George’s Emergency Operation Center at 301-583-2230.

Elsewhere in the area Friday night, trees fell as gusts more than 60 mph raked through neighborhoods, punctuated by loud claps of thunder at the end of another day of blistering heat.

At 9 p.m. Friday, about 45,000 homes and businesses served by Pepco had no power. By 3 p.m. Saturday, Pepco reported that 4,243 customers were still without power in the District, 7,090 in Prince George’s County and 540 in Montgomery County. Dominion Virginia Power reported 16 customers in Northern Virginia without electricity.

In the District, trees were reported down on South Dakota Avenue NE, between 31st and Douglas streets; the 3700 block of 12th Street NE; the unit block of Rock Creek Drive NW and the 2900 block of McKinley Street NW.

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