Sunday, September 19, 2004

Two women in northeast Maryland were killed yesterday and at least five others injured after the remnants of Hurricane Ivan brought heavy rains, adding to the destruction of Friday when tornadoes spawned by the tropical depression caused widespread damage throughout the region.

Ivan is blamed for at least 43 deaths in the United States since it slammed into the Gulf Coast on Thursday with 135-mph winds. It is considered the worst hurricane to hit the United States since Floyd came ripping up the East Coast in 1999.

Ivan was downgraded to a tropical depression by the time it arrived in Virginia, then Maryland on Friday afternoon. However, it had collided with a cold front along the way and that, combined with other factors, led to the twisters, meteorologists said.

The National Weather Service is investigating eyewitness reports that about 40 tornadoes touched down and caused severe damage in Prince William and Fairfax counties in Virginia and in Frederick County in Maryland on Friday.

At least 25 homes and three businesses were destroyed across Virginia, and nearly 2,000 homes were severely damaged, mostly in Henry County.

No deaths were reported in Virginia, but several people were injured, including two each in Fauquier and Frederick counties and one in Fairfax County, said Dawn Eischen, spokeswoman for the state Department of Emergency Management.

In Centreville, residents in the Pleasant Valley development on Cub Run Road yesterday began the arduous cleanup of strewn tree branches and debris from damaged houses littering yards and streets.

The house of Jim Hepler, a Fairfax County police officer, bore the brunt of the tornado’s force Friday. The roof of the house was torn off and thrown onto his minivan and into his neighbor’s yard, and most of the walls in the house’s upper level were ripped away. The house has been condemned, Officer Hepler said.

“We didn’t hear the tornado coming,” he said. “Some people say it sounds like a freight train coming. You could’ve heard a pin drop before it hit. When it did, though, we heard what sounded like a loud explosion, and then the roof was gone.”

Officer Hepler was home with his two sons; his brother, Joe; his two daughters, and a neighbor’s daughter when the twister touched down in the neighborhood.

Joe Hepler, who was dropping his daughters off to spend the night, was driving back to his Manassas home. He decided to return to his brother’s home after hearing various radio reports of approaching tornadoes.

“A neighbor called and said they’d seen it,” Joe Hepler said. “We opened the door and we saw it coming at us. Then the wind just sucked the door shut. At that point, we got the kids and took cover in the basement.”

The two women who died yesterday lived in Cecil County, Md., and were killed when the storm uprooted a tree that fell on their ranch home, state police said.

The victims were identified as Grace M. Jackson, 87, and her daughter, Betty A. Kline, 62. The same storm also injured five persons in northern Harford County.

The weather service issued the first tornado warning for the region at about 5:30 p.m. on Friday and by the end of the night had issued 49 of them throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia.

“There was still a lot of spin in the atmosphere,” said Howard Silverman, a meteorologist with the weather service. “Typically, on the east side of landfalling hurricanes, you will find a lot of tornadoes.”

One tornado touched down Friday about 16 miles west of Frederick, in rural Knoxville, Md., at about 6 p.m., destroying several barns and severely damaging about 10 homes.

“It also flipped over some vehicles that were in the path,” said Roy Lipscomb, chief of the Brunswick Volunteer Fire Co. in neighboring Brunswick. “Fortunately, very fortunately, no one was injured.”

After tearing across several farms, the tornado churned along the foothills of South Mountain in the Knoxville and Burkittsville area.

“You can see the path that it took where it went out through the wooded area and took all the trees out,” Chief Lipscomb said.

Potomac Electric Power Co. reported as many as 2,262 outages yesterday, including 1,217 in the District and 1,017 in Montgomery County.

Baltimore Gas and Electric reported nearly 18,000 outages, including about 2,400 in Baltimore, 5,000 in Baltimore County, 4,000 in Anne Arundel County, 3,500 in Harford County and 1,000 in Howard County.

Dominion Virginia Power reported 16,608 outages, including 10,506 in Northern Virginia.

Alan Etter of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department described conditions around the city yesterday as “very quiet,” with just a few reports of damaged power lines and fallen tree limbs.

The only significant incident was two men and a woman being rescued on the Potomac River south of the Key Bridge after their canoe overturned.

Mr. Etter said the victims were rescued by members of the Washington Canoe Club also boating in the vicinity. No injuries were reported.

He said conditions were rough because of the choppy waves created by Ivan’s wind and the swift-moving water created by the storm’s heavy rain.

“I’m surprised somebody would be on the river the day after a tropical depression,” Mr. Etter said. “This was not the day to be out canoeing.”

The weather service predicted the Potomac would flood its bank today in northern West Virginia. The river was expected to be 8 feet over the flood level at 8 a.m. in Shepherdstown, about 50 miles northwest of Washington.

Forecasters also predicted minor flooding downstream, but did not expect problems in the District’s Tidal Basin or in the flood-prone Old Town neighborhood in Alexandria.

President Bush, who has declared Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas, was skipping weekend election-campaign events to see relief work along the Gulf Coast.

Ivan, the third major hurricane to hit the southern United States in six weeks, left 70 dead in the Caribbean before heading north. What was left of the storm yesterday afternoon had moved out to sea off the Mid-Atlantic coast.

While not yet classified a hurricane, a fourth storm — Tropical Storm Jeanne — continued to tear through the Bahamas yesterday and was expected to gain strength, the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned.

Mr. Bush designated Puerto Rico a disaster zone after it was pounded by Jeanne. A fifth storm, Karl, was east of South America and moving northwest with 105-mph winds.

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

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