- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

The remnants of Hurricane Frances brought widespread rains, thunderstorms and several reports of tornadoes in Virginia and Southern Maryland yesterday.

In Maryland, Charles County emergency officials said a small tornado touched down west of La Plata yesterday afternoon.

Several people, including a county employee, reported seeing a funnel cloud on the ground near Ripley at about 1 p.m., said Jennifer Adams of the county’s emergency management division.

“There are a lot of trees and power lines down,” Miss Adams said. “No injuries were reported, but about five sheds were destroyed and a few houses had some shutter damage.”

A 2,000-square-foot barn was heavily damaged by the tornado, Miss Adams said. Debris from the barn was strewn along the tornado’s half-mile-long path.

The National Weather Service will consult with Charles County emergency officials to assess the damage and determine whether a tornado hit the area, she said.

The strong winds yesterday were a reminder of the powerful tornado in April 2002 that cut a 10-mile swath from La Plata to Hughesville, killing five persons and causing about $100 million in damage to homes, businesses and a church.

At least eight tornadoes were reported in Virginia yesterday.

Residents in Fauquier County reported seeing tornadoes in the towns of Warrington, Bealeton and Midland. One was reported in Prince William County along Interstate 95 near Quantico.

The Weather Service reported another tornado in King William County that tore off the roof of a house, pushed the house about 18 feet off its foundation and scattered debris across the yard, said WWBT-TV in Richmond.

Tornadoes also were reported in Caroline and King George counties, northeast of Richmond.

A tornado touched down in Bowling Green in Caroline County at about 3:30 p.m., demolishing at least six homes, felling hundreds of trees and snapping power lines.

“I was napping when all of a sudden I heard an awful noise. All of these trees were down. Scared me to death,” said Mary Lee Elliott, whose house narrowly missed being struck by a tree.

The tornado hit just as Bowling Green Elementary School was about to release its 500 students for the day. Teachers kept children in the hallways as the twister toppled about 200 trees on the school grounds and flattened a picnic pavilion. No injuries were reported, and there was no major damage to the school.

“I didn’t know if it was real or fake,” said Robert Hall, 9. “You could hear a whistling sound. A couple people were crying.”

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency after heavy rain in the southern and western regions of the state forced numerous evacuations, including about 25 families living in a mobile home park in Galax.

“This state of emergency opens all the resources of state government to assist with our response to this event,” Mr. Warner said.

No major injuries were reported, but numerous roads were closed throughout the region.

Robert A. Spieldenner, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said emergency officials have deployed rescue teams and drained Claytor Lake in Pulaski County to ease pressure on a dam in the state park.

The Weather Service reported some parts of southern and western Virginia had received 8 inches of rain and could receive 2 inches more.

The storm mostly spared the D.C. area. The Weather Service had issued a flood watch and predictions of 1 to 3 inches of rain, but there were no reports of major flooding, traffic delays or other problems as of late yesterday afternoon.

The rain is expected to taper off today.

Old Town Alexandria — an area especially prone to flooding — was prepared for the worst.

At least 500 sandbags were distributed to merchants in the waterfront city along the Potomac River, said Ray Owens, the city’s communications officer.

The city was seriously damaged by Hurricane Isabel last year, but here were no major reports of flooding yesterday afternoon.

Still, sand will be available at 500 S. Union St. for people to fill their own bags. The city also set up three sandbag distribution areas.

“We handed out bags, put out sand, and we’ve monitored the weather closely,” Mr. Owens said. “We’ve done as much as we can.”

The D.C. Department of Public Works provided sandbags for city residents living in flood-prone areas, department spokeswoman Mary Myers said.

About 2,800 sandbags were made available for pickup at 2700 S. Capitol St. SE. The department used a mechanical bagging machine that fills four sandbags at a time. Residents were restricted to eight bags each.

The Public Works Department’s role “mainly concerns the aftermath,” she said. “But this is one thing we can do ahead of time to give residents extra peace of mind.”

D.C. Water and Sewer Authority officials said they are monitoring reservoir levels. The Department of Transportation is ready with tree-trimming crews in case of downed trees.

Potomac Electric Power Co. officials said they are not expecting significant disruptions to service, but crews will be on duty around the clock just in case.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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