Cherished possessions in MD

BY SUSAN KIM | LA PLATA, MD | May 5, 2002



"I don't think we can categorize individual deeds. It's this community's faith and spirituality at work."

—Bob Stevens


In the rubble that used to

be a home, there are Christmas lights, a child's

Matchbox cars, an embroidered apron, a cap for the

World's Best Granddad, a well-worn cake pan, a box of

chocolates still in its outer plastic wrap.

Someone -- the homeowner, perhaps, or a volunteer -- has

carefully set these cherished possessions on the edge of

the concrete foundation where they're drying out in the

sun.

At this point it's the little things that count after a

monster tornado tore through this town of 6,500.

And volunteers helping out are on the lookout for just

that. In many cases, they've put their lives aside to

help people salvage what they can, whether it's a

cherished family photo or the inventory of a shattered

business.

On 30-member team of Amish men from Mechanicsville, MD

was lifting concrete blocks, one by one, out of what

used to be a building supply operation. Tobias Stoltzfus

said there was no question about whether they would help

out.

They've been at the scene since Monday morning. "When we

heard about it, we went where the help was needed. There

was no question on that."

They've been making the drive each day from a

neighboring county. "There's been a lot of work cutting

trees out of front yards," said Stoltzfus.

As for their work back home, "it just has to wait," he

said. "My uncle's barn burned on Sunday, and we had to

postpone our work on that."

While the volunteers are helping tornado survivors

salvage belongings, cut up trees, and encourage them to eat a good meal,

they're also simply listening to stories of survival and

loss in La Plata.

The toll from Sunday's tornado has grown as a fourth

person died this week and officials said they had

catalogued more than 860 homes and at least 194

businesses that were damaged or destroyed. That's nearly

twice initial estimates.

And rural areas of Charles and Calvert counties are just

as damaged, according to county officials.

National Weather Service teams assessing the destruction

found paths of two tornadoes. One tore a path through

Charles County and most of Calvert County. A slightly

less powerful funnel cloud formed just west of the

Chesapeake Bay then crossed the bay into Dorchester

County, where one house was destroyed.

As damage reports filter in, so do the stories of

personal pain and triumph. A new tornado watch issued

for the region Thursday night didn't help those trying

to cope with post-traumatic stress. People couldn't

believe it could happen twice - but they never believed

it would happen the first time, either.

"People just need to talk," observed Richard Logsdon,

director of missions for the Potomac Baptist Association

of Maryland. Logsdon was coordinating a team of Southern

Baptist Convention volunteers who were providing meals

for those affected by the storm. "I think the loss is

only beginning to be felt. There is so much shock that

an F5 tornado would ever hit."

F5 is the most powerful category of storm, with winds

from 260 to 318 mph.

In La Plata sacrificing for others has suddenly become

the norm. La Plata resident Sally Sexton worked at a law

firm in town and the office was destroyed. Loading what

files she could into her car Friday, she talked about

how generous people had become.

"There's a business called Pizza Hotline in town, and

they baked pizzas and just loaded them onto a pickup and

gave them out at no charge."

And that's just one example, she said, in what has

become a collective energy that has boosted the spirits

of a town under nature's siege. "I don't see

hopelessness on anyone's part," she said.

Many businesses will be temporarily relocated in modular

buildings near the main highway that runs through town.

Then La Plata is expected to begin a downtown revitalization

that had been to start in the summer of 2003.

Bob Stevens, construction manager for Security Vault

Works, said he'd seen so many people reaching out to one

another that "I don't think we can categorize individual

deeds. It's this community's faith and spirituality at

work."

Stevens sat on the curb in front of his destroyed

business Friday, eating a sandwich for lunch.

"You can talk about things like spirituality, and you

can live them. This is living them. Most times we admire

somebody who can go to the bank and get what money they

need. But right now the person to admire is the person

who can go to their spiritual bank and get what they

need. That's the person to envy."

Stevens said he moved to Maryland from Dallas, TX six

months ago. He thought he'd left a region at high risk

for tornadoes. "Then I saw a tornado warning on TV. I

said, 'God, if I die in a tornado, at least take me back

to Texas because I'd never hear the end of it if one hit

me in Maryland."

Looking at the smashed homes and buildings surrounding

him, Stevens compared the scene to a war zone. "Looking

at this you realize what a blessing it is to enjoy life,

to sit here and eat a sandwich."


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