By Daniel de Vise and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 29, 2006
A tornado ripped through a section of Anne Arundel County last night, part of a major storm system in the Washington area that damaged more than two dozen homes and cut electrical service to tens of thousands of customers.
In Severna Park, where the tornado touched down, one man fell from his roof trying to cover a skylight. He was treated at the hospital for minor injuries, authorities said. There were no other reported injuries.
Officials across the area searched in darkness last night trying to assess damage to homes and buildings caused by high winds, lightning and downed trees and branches. The heaviest damage was reported in Anne Arundel and eastern Prince George's counties.
More than 30,000 customers across Maryland, Virginia and the District lost power last night, utility companies reported. Some were expected to still be without power today.
National Weather Service forecasters said they received "reliable" reports confirming tornado activity in the Severna Park area, which were backed up by radar data. Anne Arundel officials said homeowners began calling emergency operators about 6:30 p.m. to report seeing funnel clouds.
On North Drive in Severna Park, where the storm did the most damage, John Murphy was eating dinner with his son Nick, 14, when they heard the wind pick up. They ran to a window.
"There was this huge wind coming down the road, like a big, white whirl, and all of a sudden trees started dropping," said Murphy, 48.
At least 20 homes were damaged in a six-block grid of the lower Magothy Beach neighborhood of Severna Park, varying in severity, said Battalion Chief Steve Thompson of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.
At least 11 of those homes were condemned last night, displacing dozens of residents, many who found shelter with relatives and friends. Police officers were deployed to protect the evacuated homes, officials said.
Most of the damage to homes was caused by trees and branches that smashed through roofs and aluminum siding. The National Weather Service estimated that winds reached between 60 and 70 mph.
"One neighbor said it sounded like a jet engine," Thompson said.
Yesterday's storm system, which came on an otherwise pleasant fall day, was created by a cold front that came from the Midwest, said Luis Rosa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The storms began with intense thunder and lightning across Northern Virginia and then swept through the District and Maryland at nearly 40 mph.
The system was then hit by southeasterly winds from the Chesapeake Bay, which fueled the tornado activity, Rosa said.
"We think this is definitely a very reliable report," he said. "We are very confident this was a tornado," he said. Officials will examine the damage today, Rosa said.
In the Bowie area, firefighters went door-to-door in the city's K and B sections to make sure that there were no injuries from sheared roof shingles or fallen tree limbs.
At least six homes were severely damaged in the area and hundreds of homes were without power, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George's fire department.
As of early this morning, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company reported 9,300 customer outages in Anne Arundel and 4,700 in Prince George's. Pepco reported 1,100 customers without electricity in Prince George's, more than 1,900 in the District and 1,300 in Montgomery County.
In Virginia, Dominion Power officials said lightning blew fuses, initially causing about 11,000 customers to lose power. That figure dropped to 1,400 early this morning.
In the District, heavy rains delayed last night's start of the Nationals game against the Phillies at RFK Stadium for about 4 1/2 hours. As of 1 a.m., the game was in the sixth inning.