Where We Live

Quailwood, in La Plata, Md., is serene after the storm

La Plata's Quailwood neighborhood, hit hard by a 2002 tornado, shows few signs of the devastation.
La Plata's Quailwood neighborhood, hit hard by a 2002 tornado, shows few signs of the devastation. (Jim Brocker for The Washington Post)
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By Jim Brocker
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 5, 2010; 8:57 AM

Bill Borza likes to sit in his garage, which lies on the crest of a hill and offers a view of the goings-on in the Quailwood subdivision of La Plata. There is no evidence that his home was ripped apart eight years ago by a powerful tornado that clipped a portion of the neighborhood.

Today, few signs remain from the storm, which led to four deaths across Southern Maryland. Damaged houses have been repaired - Borza's had to be razed and rebuilt. Still, the tornado "will be part of this community forever," said Borza, 63. Some say the storm brought the community closer together, as neighbors sheltered displaced families and offered support for months afterward.

Nearly everyone has a tale to tell about the tornado, which arrived about 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, 2002. Jamie MacGregor, 42, the pastor of La Plata Community Church, was holding Bible study with about 25 people at his Quailwood home that Sunday when the power suddenly went out. MacGregor then heard "the classic train sound," and when he looked out his front bay window, he saw the funnel cloud coming.

MacGregor helped everyone get to the basement and said the house felt as though it was going to implode. The sky was pea-green. His ears popped. Then trees started falling around the house.

"Afterward, I went outside and it was snowing insulation. It was just floating out of the sky," MacGregor said. His house had a hole in the roof and torn shingles, but no one was hurt. Other homes on the street, however, were destroyed.

Residents remember the lengthy and occasionally frustrating process of rebuilding, including the back-and-forth with insurance claims adjusters. But they won't forget the outpouring of support, either. The Red Cross provided meals and supplies, Amish men traveled from St. Mary's County to clear debris, and Quailwood neighbors came out to help the hardest-hit put their lives back together.

"It was indicative of a great neighborhood," said Victor Allen, 67, who recalls residents bearing chain saws, lights and gloves. They gathered outdoors over meals in the evenings, "celebrating our good fortune - even though homes were damaged, just being glad to be alive."

That tightknit stability still distinguishes the Charles County neighborhood. Only six homes have sold in the past 12 months. In addition to about 165 single-family residences, the neighborhood has 75 townhouses. Quailwood residents include government workers who commute to Washington, and to jobs at other federal offices and military bases in the metro area. There are Charles County government workers, employees of the school system and a number of retirees.

Many residents say the neighborhood, built in the 1980s, has become more desirable since additional stores and restaurants have opened in La Plata over the past five years. "We've had measured growth; it's impacted everybody, but in a favorable way," Allen said.

Quailwood's homes include brick ramblers, split-levels, contemporaries with skylights and Colonials with siding. Most have more than 2,000 square feet of living space. Many of the Colonials have large front porches, and some houses have basements.

"Quailwood seems to have a wonderful reputation," said Bonnie Baldus Grier, an agent for Baldus Real Estate. "People who are there love it there and stay. There's a sense of community, a sense of neighborhood. People know their neighbors for the most part, and they do things together."

Residents whose houses were hit by the tornado had to rebuild in order to retain their investment, said Borza's neighbor, Joe Mann, 62, whose home was also damaged. In many cases the rebuilt homes appreciated in value, because the new construction coincided with the real estate boom. Some houses were rebuilt in different styles, which "adds some interest" to the neighborhood, Grier said.

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