‘We were really lucky’: Maryland leaders assess damage following tornado

It didn’t take long before contractors and cleanup crews arrived at South River High School in Edgewater, Maryland, or at the golf course community not far behind it. Wood chippers and chainsaws were out early cleaning up tree debris — both branches and entire trees that had been knocked down — and in some cases, trying to figure out how to replace entire roofs that had been ripped off when a tornado swept through the area on Wednesday.

But a mile north, the mess from the remnants of Hurricane Ida was much, much bigger.

On Oakwood Road in Edgewater, tree debris camouflaged the various downed cables and power lines that ran along the side of the road, as contractors, chainsaw-wielding firefighters, insurance adjusters and county building inspectors all paraded under yellow police tape to take a look at one devastated block.

In one driveway, there was a pickup truck that had been picked up, flipped on its roof and turned 90 degrees from where it had been parked next door. Across the street, three houses lost their roofs. In fact, one of the roofs had been lifted, moved and put back down.

The county has already said that home will need to be demolished and rebuilt, although more immediately a fence needs to be erected around the property before it collapses. The home was less than a year old and now its owners were sitting under a tent in their driveway staring at the structure in disbelief. The front door, and the rest of the home, was a good 10 to 15 feet away from the front steps.

“Everything just feel like an explosion,” said Carlos Zepeda, who lives two doors down and was home when the tornado passed through. His roof is among the missing, having been blown into a park behind his home. “All the glass from this side just exploded. It was really bad.”

Both he and a man named Steve who lives across the street told WTOP that it all happened very fast, and the aftermath looked like “someone dropped a bomb here.”

“Just heard things flying all over the house,” said Zepeda. “From all angles, just were flying.”

“We were in the basement when it was going on and it was just a freight train, real loud noises and all, and only lasted about 10 seconds,” said Steve, who didn’t want to give his last name. “We came out, checked it later — the whole fence in the back is gone, truck is flipped over on its top, couple branches through the sides of the walls and things.”

Steve, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, both repeated the most important observation over and over again: “We were really lucky with respect to injuries and fatalities,” said Hogan, as he assessed the damage at South River High School in Edgewater on Thursday. “It could have been much, much worse.”

Remarkably, no one was killed or injured. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, who visited Oakwood Street Wednesday night, said the other thing he noticed was how well everyone who lived there came together to help out.

“There was a group of people, a bunch of neighbors, up on a roof putting tarps up where the shingles were gone,” he said. “Like the governor said — people are coming together.”

The next worry, though, is what happens as utility lines start cranking up again. With gas and power lines damaged, just like some of the homes they’re connected to, there’s concern about more hazards still to come.

“There’s potential for things to happen as power gets restored, as gas gets restored,” noted Capt. Russ Davies of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. He’s warning people about letting generators run too close to the inside of their homes, which could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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