20 years after deadly tornado, La Plata set to commemorate tragedy, recovery

A historic marker lies on the ground April 29, 2002, among the debris left when a tornado tore through the town of La Plata, Maryland. Tornados and thunderstorms slashed their way through the eastern half of the nation, killing at least six people and injuring dozens. Maryland saw the worst of the tornadoes, with at least three deaths and 93 injuries.

Man standing amid tornado damage
An investigator looks into a car that was in the drive through of a Kentucky Fried Chicken store that was demolished when a tornado tore through April 29, 2002, in La Plata, Maryland. (Getty/Mark Wilson)

Homeowners who wished not to be identified comb through what is left of their home April 29, 2002, after a tornado tore through the town of La Plata, Maryland.

Darrel Rodgers inspects the damaged windows inside the La Plata United Methodist Church on April 29, 2002, the morning after a tornado tore through the town of La Plata, Maryland.

 

Steve Jacques gathers personal belongings out of a closet on the morning after a tornado tore the roof off his house on April 29, 2002 in La Plata, Maryland.

Debbie Jacques steps over debris in her bedroom while looking personal belongings on the morning after a tornado tore the roof off her house on April 29, 2002, in La Plata, Maryand.

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Man standing amid tornado damage

Thursday night marks 20 years since a 207-mile-an-hour tornado roared through southern Maryland, killing 5 people, and crushing the Charles County town of La Plata.

A tornado struck La Plata on Sunday, April 28, 2002, just after 7 p.m. — following what was a pleasant afternoon.

The twister leveled or severely damaged approximately 500 buildings, with the worst damage near the downtown business district, off Maryland State Route 6 near U.S. Route 301.



“This tornado tracked from west-to-east at nearly 60 mph across southern Maryland. Although F4 tornadoes are rare in the Mid-Atlantic, even more rare with this event was its location well outside of the climatologically favored area of the country for violent tornadoes,” according to the National Weather Service.

WTOP’s Dave Dildine observed the damage later that evening.

“Large portions of houses (were) completely lifted up and transported several hundred feet down the road,” Dildine said. “The number of vehicles that were picked up from parking lots here, there, (and) driveways, flipped, tossed, turned.”

Despite the damage, the human toll was likely lessened by the fact the tornado struck on a Sunday evening. On Nov. 9, 1926, a tornado killed 13 children at a La Plata school, according to the National Weather Service.

Ten years after the storm, the town put together an exhibit with before and after photos, showing how La Plata had recovered.

The Town of La Plata will commemorate the tornado’s 20th anniversary with a ceremony on the Town Hall concert lawn at 6:30 p.m.

See the aftermath of the tornado. 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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