- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

LA PLATA, Md. Pink signs reading "Do not enter: This property is condemned" are tacked to most of Oak Avenue's houses, or the wooden frames that were once houses. But one house will get no such sign.
Holly Dunbar refuses to demolish the two-story Victorian at 105 Oak Ave. The house is still standing, though an entire side has been sheared off.
"I have spent 4 years putting my heart and soul into this place, and there is no way I will see a bulldozer take it down," said Mrs. Dunbar, 30, as she took a short break from clearing debris. "This is not just a house, it's a very special house."
The 109-year-old house has too much history, Mrs. Dunbar said. And it has endured catastrophe before.
A twister hit La Plata in 1926 and killed 17 persons, including 13 schoolchildren. The only home that escaped significant damage was 105 Oak Ave., which served as the funeral home for the children who were killed when they were trapped in their school down the street. All 13 were laid to rest inside, and the town came together there to mourn, she said.
"We may rename it the tornado house I do think about there being a certain type of karma associated with it. But I am going to stay here and do my gardening," said Mrs. Dunbar, whose red sleeping bag hung from the telephone poll across the street.
She and her husband were in San Francisco when the tornado hit on Sunday, and they heard about it in a phone call from her sister. Before their plane left for home, Mrs. Dunbar decided she was going to save the house.
Three persons in Charles and Calvert counties were killed and nearly 100 others were injured by the tornado, rated highest on the Fujita Scale as an F5. It was the first time the state had a tornado of that magnitude.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening asked President Bush yesterday to declare three counties federal disaster areas because of tornado damage.
Mr. Glendening said he sent Mr. Bush a letter asking for disaster declarations for Charles, Calvert and Dorchester counties, the first step in seeking federal disaster-relief funds.
The governor, who toured affected areas in Southern Maryland yesterday, said the state is also providing $400,000 to help rebuild La Plata's Main Street, the area most severely damaged.
"This is La Plata and it's gone," Mr. Glendening said. "We're going to rebuild, no doubt about it, but it's heartbreaking."
Preliminary, conservative estimates put the damage at $100 million in Charles and Calvert counties and parts of the Eastern Shore.
Charles County Commissioner Murray Levy estimated more than 400 buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
"The volume of damage is staggering," he said.
Members of the Amish community from neighboring St. Mary's County came to help. The community, which was established in 1940, sent several vans and an estimated 100 members to cut trees, clear roofs and remove debris.
"We'll be here for most of the week. Everybody needs help," said John Esh, 58, as he cleared some trees.
Many said they had a sense of duty to help their neighbors in need.
"We see a need for help, and we want to help it's a part of our culture," said one man who, like most of the Amish, did not want to be identified.
The help came as a welcome surprise.
Barbara Bradbury was in La Plata helping a friend who lost her home and dog. The Waldorf resident said she was amazed Monday when a group of Amish men showed up at her friend's house.
"They just knocked on the front door and said, 'We are here to help you, we were lucky not to be hurt, but we want to do what we can for you during this time, so please put us to work,'" Ms. Bradbury recalled. Yesterday "it was the same thing, except this time it was many more they have just been amazing."
As the work of picking up and clearing out began in earnest, many signs around town expressed a determination to rebuild.
Martin's Gas Station, at Route 6 and Washington Street, was demolished. By midday the double-sided sign in front had been updated to read: "After 80 years we will rebuild" and "Thanks for All Thoughts and Prayers."
Others even found a bit of humor in the devastation.
Two plywood signs stood outside one home with little more than its frame and a sizable pile of debris. One read, "I'd go back if I were you." Next to it, a larger sign with an arrow pointing to the rubble read, "State Farm, Geico" inviting insurers to drop on by.


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