- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2002

La PLATA, Md. Two persons were killed and dozens injured after a tornado touched down in Charles County in Southern Maryland yesterday, damaging buildings, flipping cars and downing power lines in La Plata, a county spokeswoman said.
Helicopters picked up the wounded on a nearby road that was being used as a landing strip. The tornado ripped off the roof of a shopping center and destroyed a gas station and church nearby.
The tornado hit about 7 p.m. and caused serious damage to at least a 10-mile stretch from La Plata to Hughesville.
Cars were tossed about, powerlines were down everywhere and communications were interrupted.
"It just started tearing up everything," said Shawn Murphy, who was delivering pizzas when he saw part of a funnel cloud.
One person was killed when a house on Hawkins Gate Road outside of La Plata collapsed, Charles County spokeswoman Nina Voehl said last night. The other person died west of the town of Prince Frederick
Gov. Parris N. Glendening activated the state's Emergency Management Administration to deal with the aftermath, said Mike Morrill, the governor's spokesman.
The head of the state police and a state National Guard official were on their way to Charles County to survey the damage, he said.
The tornado cut a path throw the center of the town, where roofs were ripped off buildings and windows were blown out, Miss Voehl said.
Debris littered downtown streets.
Tornadoes also touched down in Dorchester County near Taylor's Island on the Eastern Shore and in Calvert County near the town of Bowens. There were no immediate reports of injuries in those tornadoes.
The National Weather Service had issued thunderstorm warnings for the entire area followed by tornado warnings as a line of storms that started in Shenandoah County, Va., chased across southern Fairfax and Prince William counties into Southern Maryland.
Diana Riley, a police communications operator with Maryland State Police in Waldorf, said the tornado touched down at U.S. 301 in La Plata and headed east down Charles Street.
The funnel brought hail with it, Miss Riley said.
"We were pretty much covered with 2-inch hail," she said. " It took out a lot of our windshields."
Golf-ball-sized hail was reported in Dale City, Va., and there was a report of baseball-sized hail in Waldorf, Md.
Officials announced that schools in Charles County will be closed today and a curfew was in effect.
State police set up a command center in downtown La Plata to coordinate law enforcement and rescue efforts.
Search and rescue teams were assembling to go to Southern Maryland from Montgomery, Prince George's and Fairfax counties .
"We've had several businesses hit," said Jennifer Hancock, a clerk in the Charles County Sheriff's Office. She wouldn't add any more details, saying she was too busy answering calls.
The storm cell was expected to dissipate as it crossed the chilly waters of the Chesapeake Bay after dark, but police dispatchers on the Eastern Shore said tornadoes touched down just after 8 p.m. in southern Dorchester County near Taylor's Island.
Earlier in the day, high winds felled trees, tossed tractor-trailers and toppled a church steeple in central Virginia. The worst damage was concentrated in the Lynchburg and Bedford areas.
John Larkin, director of public safety for Campbell County, said the storm moved in a straight line across Route 29, about five miles south of Lynchburg. Between 10 and 12 homes in a mobile home park were overturned, trapping at least one man who had to be extricated by rescue crews.
Highland Heights Baptist Church across the street from the mobile home park lost its roof.
Al Brandt, owner of a recreational vehicle business in Lynchburg, reported 30 of his units damaged, with an initial estimate of hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
"There was tremendous noise," he told the Lynchburg News & Advance. "Our lot was covered in trees and leaves, like it was sandblasted in green. One of the trailers smacked up against our building."
Mr. Brandt said his wife, daughter and 1-year-old grandson hid in a closet until the storm passed.
The Bedford County Sheriff's Department said houses collapsed and cars overturned in the eastern part of the county, between Bedford and Lynchburg along Route 460.
A tractor-trailer was overturned on Interstate 81, choking traffic, said Mary Price, assistant county administrator in Bedford County.
National Weather Service meteorologist Jan Jackson said the path of destruction indicated the presence of tornados.
The storms were part of a much larger system that moved across the Tennessee and Ohio valleys yesterday afternoon, killing three persons and destroying scores of homes.

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