- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

Mother Nature is messy.
Francis Edelen should know. He has been cleaning up after her since the April 28 tornado that struck Southern Maryland.
Mr. Edelen, 38, is a facility maintenance technician for the Maryland State Highway Administration. The job requires him to keep the state's roads clean, whether it means plowing snow with a truck or moving fallen tree limbs with a backhoe.
Since the tornado, Mr. Edelen has focused solely on cleaning the debris in Charles County. He went to work about two hours after the tornado struck and has had just two days off since.
"We're just trying to get people back onto their property," he says.
This workday begins with Mr. Edelen reporting to the State Highway Administration's maintenance shop at La Plata at 7:30 a.m., as he normally does.
He and his co-workers hang around a garage for half an hour or so. Some munch on doughnuts and drink coffee. Mr. Edelen smokes a cigarette.
About 8 a.m., the shop's managers begin handing out assignments for the day. Mr. Edelen is asked to drive a dump truck to Homeland Drive, a residential street in eastern Charles County where the tornado destroyed several homes.
Mr. Edelen reaches there about 8:30 a.m., where a crew of State Highway Administration workers are cutting fallen trees with chainsaws. At one end of the road sits a mangled Ford Lincoln that the workers pulled out of a tree the previous day.
Mr. Edelen pulls his dump truck into a line of three dump trucks. Another worker uses a backhoe to load each truck with the tree remains, including limbs, trunks and stumps that are still attached to huge mounds of earth.
It takes awhile before Mr. Edelen's dump truck gets loaded. Waiting around is one of the hardest parts of his job, he says.
"It's a slow process, but SHA (the State Highway Administration) has been very organized. I think we've done a good job keeping it an organized process," he says.
At 9:30 a.m., Mr. Edelen's truck is loaded and he leaves for a site in La Plata where the State Highway Administration takes the tree remains and burns them.
The site is actually a smoldering burn pile of tree limbs and other debris. Orange flames and smoke rise from the massive mound.
After dumping his load, he uses the radio in his truck's cab to call the dispatcher at the La Plata shop. The dispatcher asks Mr. Edelen to report to a site in downtown La Plata that needs cleaning up.
Mr. Edelen drives the truck down Charles Street, La Plata's main thoroughfare. Posey's, a small grocery store and a local landmark, has been destroyed, but its marquee sign remains.
Before the storm, it advertised a sale on Southern Maryland stuffed ham. The letters have been rearranged to say "We are tuff."
Mr. Edelen arrives at the intersection of St. Mary's Avenue and Prince George's Street about 10 a.m., where a crew of about five state highway workers are raking tree remains and loading them into another dump truck.
"Cleaning up the debris is hard, but it's no harder than cleaning up after a bad winter storm It's like any job. You have days that are quiet, and you have days that blow up," Mr. Edelen says.
He is a diligent worker. He cracks a few jokes with his coworkers at the La Plata site but stays focused on raking the debris. He also wears an orange uniform shirt emblazoned with his nickname "Candy," a moniker his grandmother gave him as a child because she thought he was sweet.
When Mr. Edelen is done raking, he will return to Homeland Drive, where he will continue to pick up debris in his dump truck and deliver it to the burn site in La Plata. He will make several trips to the site before his workday ends.
About 3:30 p.m., he will return to the shop. His day will be done, and it will be time to go home to his wife and their three foster children in Dentsville, an area on the outskirts of La Plata.
Mr. Edelen is a lifelong Charles County resident. He grew up in the La Plata area and graduated from La Plata High School in 1980.
The storm destroyed or damaged La Plata landmarks that are familiar to him and other longtime Charles County residents: the old P.S. Bowling & Co. department store on Charles Street, the Safeway on Crain Highway, the medical and legal offices along La Grange Avenue.
It's tough to see the devastation, Mr. Edelen says, but he's glad he's able to help clean up his community.
"Most of the property owners have been really nice about letting us help them. They're very thankful," he says.


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