Charles County

‘Surreal': La Plata Remembers Devastating Tornado 20 Years Later

The storm claimed five lives, injured more than 100 people and caused $100 million dollars in damages

NBC Washington

When visiting La Plata, Maryland, it's hard to imagine that much of the town was leveled by a tornado 20 years ago.

"We just went through a tornado and we're sitting in a building and there's practically nothing left here," a woman cried during a 911 call.

The storm claimed five lives, injured more than 100 people and caused $100 million dollars in damages.

"It looks like a bomb blew up. It was surreal. I didn’t know where I was at," said Tony Rose, the deputy director of Charles County Emergency Services.

Back then, Rose was in charge of 911 public safety communications.

"I left my wife and daughter hunkered down in the basement hoping for the best as I pulled out of the driveway," he said.

Rose says Charles County wasn't prepared to handle something of that magnitude.

"That was only one of two times where I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to do first," he said.

The tornado hit on a Sunday evening and ripped through the Archbishop Neale School.

It was Marcia Gutrick’s first year teaching at the school. Her classroom was in a trailer.

"That trailer was lifted up, spun around and slammed back down on the foundation so if we had been here, it would have been a very devastating toll of life," Gutrick said.

She showed News4 a curio cabinet containing her daughter’s artwork.

The tornado winds blew it from the school to the Eastern Shore.

"Just to reconnect and bring that piece back, it just means we were built back better and stronger," Gutrick said.

Patti Lockrow is an administrative assistant at Archbishop Neale School. Her children also attended the school at the time.

"When you see wind and you see clouds, you just get a little nervous and you're always kind of looking out the window, and just praying that it's not going to happen again," Lockrow said.

But improvements in forecasting, communications and alert systems as well as tornado warning sirens in La Plata do offer some comfort to residents.

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