- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

La PLATA, Md. (AP) Federal disaster relief officials said yesterday that residents and business owners of devastated La Plata, Md., can expect help cleaning up and recovering from Sunday's monstrous tornado.

A team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency worked to set up an office in La Plata at which residents and business owners can apply for federal aid. President Bush declared Calvert, Charles and Dorchester counties federal disaster areas on Wednesday, opening the door for federal assistance.

"I have the president's checkbook," said Thomas Davies, the FEMA official coordinating the relief effort.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were either damaged or destroyed by the powerful tornado that ripped through Charles and Calvert counties Sunday night, killing three persons and injuring around 100. The tornado also caused damage in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore.

Preliminary damage reports by the state ranged around $100 million in Calvert, Charles and Dorchester counties, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening said Tuesday those estimates were conservative.

FEMA assessed about 900 homes in the region and found 85 were totally destroyed and 167 sustained major damage from the tornado that packed winds in excess of 260 mph.

Residents are eligible for up to $25,000 for expenses not covered by insurance. Businesses are eligible for loans with rates as low as 4 percent, Mr. Davies said.

Schools, streets and the county courthouse in La Plata were all reopened yesterday. Cranes, meanwhile, worked to remove piles of debris from yards, and Amish men with chain saws cut apart fallen trees.

La Plata's main street, Charles Street, was reopened and much of the rubble from damaged businesses had been removed. The National Weather Service also sent a team to assess the storm's strength and whether alert systems worked well enough on Sunday.

The weather service issued a tornado watch Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. for the area, but wasn't able to give La Plata warning that a tornado was coming until minutes before it struck.

NWS meteorologist John Ogren said the system worked relatively well as many people were on the lookout because of the warnings. The fact that only three persons were killed is a sign that the system worked, he said.

Forecasts yesterday for a possible severe thunderstorm caused jitters among residents, still recovering from Sunday.

"We have hope the Good Lord won't do this to us twice in a row, and this one will pass us by," said Murray Levy, president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners.

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