- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Ten years after a tornado leveled parts of La Plata, leaving communities ripped apart, businesses in shambles and five people dead, the town and its people are healing, continuing to rebuild and taking weather warnings more seriously.
“My husband will tell you that I watch too much weather,” said lifetime La Plata resident Susan Mudd Vogel, who can recall vividly where she was April 28, 2002. “If we hear a tornado warning, it’s down to the basement we go.”
Vogel, her husband, Keith, and their two children, Kip, then 7, and Julia, then 2, were on their way home from the beach when they hit La Plata right when the weather started getting ugly.
The family wasn’t listening to weather reports, they had the kids’ music playing, but Vogel knew something was off. They saw what looked like billowing smoke and at first thought maybe Safeway or Archbishop Neale School was on fire.
“The air quality changed,” she remembered. “People were honking their horns. It felt like we were in slow motion.”
Vogel told her husband that she thought they were witnessing “a twister” and they knew they had to find a safe place to wait it out. First, Keith pulled into the parking lot of Posey’s Market on Charles Street (the market would be destroyed by the F4 storm). Vogel thought they were too exposed in that location, so Keith moved them up the street to the parking lot of Bernie’s Frames and Pizza Hotline and angled the car in an alley way.
Too this day, Vogel thinks she saw the tornado reflected in the driver’s side mirror, but can’t be sure. The family of four huddled together, holding hands, Julia strapped in her car seat, and waited.
“We were praying,” Vogel said. “Then I saw the water tower crumble down … like a caterpillar.”
After the storm passed, they headed down Charles Street to Civista Medical Center, where she worked at the time, and dropped the kids off at Julia’s day care provider who was across the street from the hospital. Then she and Keith went to see what happened.
The first stop was to the law offices of Mudd, Mudd and Fitzgerald on St. Mary’s Street where her father, Tom Mudd, works.
They noticed a car there, the historic building annihilated, the sign blown to “smithereens.” They learned that no one was in the office on the Sunday evening and the car was blown there by the tornado.
Growing up in La Plata and seeing the ruins, Vogel tried to piece together what was standing and what was missing.
Charles County Sheriff’s Officers started to arrive and the couple were stopped, but curiosity got the better of them.
“We split up and started running,” Vogel said.
In the days to come, they saw the devastation. ANS, where Kip was a student, was gone, homes in the Quailwood neighborhood were destroyed, trees that stood sentry for decades were ripped from the ground.
But in the days to come, they saw a community come together to recover.
It was hoped that the law office could be renovated, but the damage was too extensive and it had to be torn down.
“There was too much damage to preserve” the building. But in the rebuild, which accommodated an expansion, original parts of the building were incorporated into the design.
In time ANS was rebuilt and the town picked up the pieces and carried on.
“When I reflect on the storm, I think we’re a stronger community because of it,” Vogel said. “But I certainly wouldn’t want to go through it again.”
Weather watchJeff Duer, now deputy chief with the Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department, remembers monitoring the weather all day. He figured bad storms were moving into the area so he headed up to the firehouse to await the sure-to-come dispatches.
The reports of hail battering parts of the county were the confirmation he needed to know it wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill night. And having spent a couple of years living in Ohio, a state familiar with tornados, he knew the warning signs.
“When that happened,” he said of the hail falling, “I knew something bad was happening.”
Then there was a call over the radio that the medic unit was needed in La Plata because the Kentucky Fried Chicken had “blown away.” Waldorf volunteers headed down.
Upon arriving, “It was pretty surreal,” Duer recalled. “At Civista, cars were flipped upside down. Houses in Quailwood were crumpled and off their foundations.”
It was the absence of the water tower that was topped with an illuminated star that really struck a chord with Duer, a 33-year veteran at the Waldorf firehouse.
“You saw the water tower with the star all the time,” he said. “I looked around like something was missing. It was the water tower.”
The recovery efforts were “awesome,” Duer said.
“I think the community bonded as one,” he said. “Neighbors became closer … everybody was looking out for each other.”
To honor the town and its residents, Celebrate La Plata will be noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at town hall on Queen Anne Street.
The day kicks off early with a 5K walk/run sponsored by the Civista Health Foundation and an open house at the Star Memorial Garden on the grounds where the water tower once stood will be held at 11 a.m. The garden was created and cultivated by the La Plata Garden Club which was founded after the tornado in an effort to bond and help the community. Tours of Title Professionals, a business that withstood the tornado will be given from 1 to 3 p.m. and the La Plata Police Department will hold an open house noon to 5 p.m..
Celebration planned to honor town
Celebrate La Plata will be April 28 and the day will be full of activities.
Kicking off at 8:30 a.m. with the Civista Health Foundation’s 5K run/walk, the celebration will include a yard sale at Charles County Four Square Church from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the church at 1 Calvert St.
The La Plata Garden Club will hold an open house at 11 a.m. at the Star Memorial Garden, on the site where the fallen water tower once stood.
The garden is at the town’s first firehouse at 3 Firehouse St.
Celebrate La Plata will be noon to 5 p.m. at town hall at Queen Anne St.
Stop by to meet and greet the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs players.
There will be tours from 1 to 3 p.m. of Title Professionals, an office that withstood the 2002 tornado at the office at 114 La Grange Ave.
Archbishop Neale School will hold “Big F4 Twist’r,” at 3 p.m. in front of town hall. The school’s fundraiser will try to break the world record the number of people doing the Twist. Donations of $10 are requested, but not required.
Charles County Bed Races will start at 3 p.m.
The La Plata Police Department will hold an open house from noon to 5 p.m. at the station at 101 La Grange Ave.
The U.S. Navy Band Cruisers will perform at 7 p.m.
For more information, call 301-934-8421 or email email@example.com.