Talk that Hurricane Irene was overhyped didn’t sit well on Monday with many in Southern Maryland, especially those with newly totaled cars and cratered homes along Town Creek Drive in St. Mary’s County.
Recalling the terrifying bursts of wind and rain that lashed the peninsula Saturday night, residents on Monday recounted how hundreds of towering trees crashed like dominos through the mile-long neighborhood. Cars and campers, boats and barns were crushed like toys as children screamed and families huddled for safety from the howling wind and torrential rain.
Cut off from much of the wider world on Sunday by those felled trees, the scene in parts of Southern Maryland on Monday showed that Irene brought pockets of destruction to the Washington region as severe as any storm in recent memory.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is scheduled to tour some of the hard-hit areas of Southern Maryland on Tuesday.
No fewer than 50 trees could still be seen sprawled across the roofs of homes in a six-block stretch. Southern Maryland residents — many expected to be without electricity or running water for a week or more — worked relentlessly on Monday to seal up and dry out waterlogged homes and begin what promised to be an even longer slog to deal with insurance claims and the slow task of rebuilding.
“I hear on the news that people are saying that this was nothing. That’s wrong. This was huge for us,” said Saida Byrne, 41, whose home on Monday was buckling under the weight of five oak trees still leaning against the roof and back wall. “Our huge deck is gone, the air conditioner is gone, and the roof — that will be gone if we can’t move these trees soon. I can hear it cracking.”
Byrne and her three children were in their living room in the California, Md., neighborhood watching a tree fall just short of their next-door neighbor’s house when they heard the first oak crash onto their home. Byrne said she and her panicked children huddled near the front door until they finally fell asleep sometime after 2 a.m.
“It was 10 times worse than Isabel,” said Lisa Delahay, 45, referring to the 2003 storm that is the Washington region’s hurricane benchmark.
“It must have been a tornado, must have — it looks like a war zone out here,” added her husband, Allan Delahay, an aircraft maintenance supervisor at the nearby Patuxent Naval Air Station. A V-shaped line of at least 15 trees fell on the Delahay’s 3 / 4-acre property. The last one ripped through their garage, pounding the family Lexus and sending rain gushing into the rafters above the kitchen. “The whole roof is going to have to be replaced.”
The National Weather Service said it had recorded no tornado, but that a trained spotter observed a funnel cloud.
“In all my life, I’ve never seen a rain like that — and I’ve spent 20 years on a ship and seen plenty of storms,” said Jim Tiburzi, 87, as he picked away at the six-foot-tall root ball of a fallen oak tree from Washington state that he had planted more than four decades ago.
Wearing a “World War II veteran” baseball cap and listening to Kenny Rogers on his car radio, Tiburzi worked to fill in the crater left by the roots while his son manned one of dozens of chain saws buzzing in the neighborhood.
St. Mary’s officials said 22,000 residents remained without power as of Monday evening, but they hadn’t yet been able to catalogue all the damage to homes or calculate the estimated cost of the damage in what may be the region’s hardest-hit area.
Del. John L. Bohanan Jr. (D-St. Mary’s), who toured Southern Maryland with other lawmakers by helicopter on Sunday, said that because the storm produced little flooding, the damage was hard to see from the air.
He said it seemed that the 10 or more inches of rain that fell in parts of St. Mary’s, combined with sustained winds, produced the most damage.
“It just uprooted a lot of trees, and in wooded neighborhoods that damaged a lot of homes,” said Bohanan, who counted 51 fallen trees on his one-acre property.
For some, there was little solace in knowing the damage was contained to their corner of the world.
“You drive down the road and there is nothing, no damage until here. Why us? It makes me want to cry,” said Marzene Ichniowski, who said that she and her husband had diligently pruned or cut down trees after Hurricane Isabel damaged their house. “We thought we had gotten them all, but there are always more that can fall, I guess.”
Ichniowski and her husband used their gas-powered grill to cook for two days but were preparing to send their five children to a friend’s home until the power returns.
“After Isabel, it took nine days to get our electric back. Who knows how long it will be this time.”
Six of the seven homes on her cul-du-sac had major tree damage, but her neighbors had found a bright spot.
Chuck Thorne’s Harley-Davidson Roadster had somehow escaped without a scratch when a 100-year-old tree fell on his shed. Its new nickname might be “Lucky,” he said.
Most, however, agreed that even all that had been lost could be replaced.
“The important part,” Byrne said, “is that everyone is safe.”