La Plata to mark 15 years af­ter tor­nado

County re­mem­bers dev­as­ta­tion, re­build­ing ef­forts

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

On April 28, 2002, an F4 tor­nado struck La Plata, leav­ing be­hind dev­as­ta­tion, loss and ruin for many busi­nesses and fam­i­lies. How­ever, the town came to­gether af­ter the tragic event to pick up the pieces and move for­ward with its vi­sion for a closer and stronger com­mu­nity.

This year’s Cel­e­brate La Plata event on April 29 rec­og­nizes the 15 year an­niver­sary of the de­struc­tion and re­build of the town af­ter such a cat­a­strophic event, and re­mem­bers the lives that were lost that day.

La Plata Mayor Roy G. Hale said, “You had to have stood in the mid­dle of down­town La Plata af­ter the tor­nado de­stroyed the town’s in­fra­struc­ture, busi­nesses, and build­ings, in or­der to ap­pre­ci­ate how far the town has come to­day.”

For­mer mayor Wil­liam F. Eck­man re­mem­bers the day of the tor­nado like it was yes­ter­day.

“I walked through the town and it was full of de­bris — it was a com­plete mess,” Eck­man said. “I re­mem­ber I thought to

my­self if we can get this cleaned up in three months, we’ll be lucky. A 400-foot tor­nado swath cut through the mid­dle of down­town. Build­ings were down, sewer valves were bro­ken, and it im­pacted peo­ple from all over the county.”

Eck­man said the tor­nado went through the in­ter­sec­tion of U.S. 301 and Route 6, leav­ing nearly to­tal de­struc­tion from one end of the town to the other.

“One week af­ter the de­struc­tion of the tor­nado, we had 300 ma­chines and 600 work­ers in town clean­ing up. It was a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort from the state and ev­ery­body who could lend a help­ing hand. I could never en­vi­sion all of the help we would get to do it. It was just amaz­ing, all of the help we got,” Eck­man said.

At the Cel­e­brate La Plata event, the town will cel­e­brate suc­cess­fully build­ing back the com­mu­nity that is now closer, bet­ter, and stronger than be­fore. Hale will help kick off Cel­e­brate La Plata at noon by ded­i­cat­ing the brand new star sculp­ture made to cel­e­brate the 15 year an­niver­sary of the re­build of La Plata.

Ac­cord­ing to Judy Nor­ris, chair of Town of La Plata Beau­ti­fi­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, sculp­tor Lew Martin, owner of Indian Head Iron Works, at­tended many beau­ti­fi­ca­tion meet­ings at town hall to gen­er­ate the con­cept of a star with a whirling tor­nado.

“The star stands about 15 feet high and it will even­tu­ally be lighted,” Nor­ris said. “In ad­di­tion, four benches will be added at the base of the sculp­ture where one can sit and en­joy the sur­round­ings. It has been in the mak­ing for some years with it get­ting off the ground in se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion for the past year know­ing we wanted it for ded­i­ca­tion near the 15 year an­niver­sary of the tor­nado. Martin met our ex­pec­ta­tions and went be­yond with his ex­per­tise.”

Hun­dreds of peo­ple will an­tic­i­pated to at­tend Cel­e­brate La Plata in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the ac­tiv­i­ties and see­ing a long list of teams who are fired up to com­pete in the bed races. The 2017 La Plata Bed Race teams in­clude or­ga­ni­za­tions, as­so­ci­a­tions and busi­nesses from all over South­ern Mary­land and they will race up La Grange Av­enue at 3 p.m.

Colleen Wil­son, spe­cial events co­or­di­na­tor, said the free, fam­ily-friendly event cel­e­brates all that the town has to of­fer and is top notch this year. She said guests will en­joy a day of ac­tiv­i­ties for chil­dren of all ages, with face paint­ing, dis­plays, re­fresh­ments for sale from lo­cal fa­vorites and en­ter­tain­ment.

“Ev­ery year we have some kind of en­ter­tain­ment and this year we are do­ing the Jump With Jill, a mu­sic-based health and well­ness show for the kids that makes nutri­tion ed­u­ca­tion fun, at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the west lawn of town hall. Vis­i­tors will get to visit busi­nesses that are set up at the event and en­joy the great food,” Wil­son said.

Wil­son said this year ev­ery­one will get to par­tic­i­pate in the Fam­ily Fit­ness Zone with World Gym, Coal Road CrossFit, and Ki­netic Per­for­mance, and spon­sored by Coal Road CrossFit. The fit­ness zone will be packed with health, well­ness and fit­ness ven­dors, in­flat­able ob­sta­cle course and demon­stra­tions for the en­tire fam­ily, lo­cated on the west lawn be­tween 1 and 3 p.m.

Guests will also en­joy an “Art Smart Tent” with art ac­tiv­i­ties for kids us­ing re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als, moon bounces, pedal cars and craft/food ven­dors.

“Cel­e­brate La Plata has al­ways been a great way to show­case what the town has to of­fer and the peo­ple of La Plata love it,” Wil­son said.

Eck­man said things that hap­pen will look pretty bad at first but can al­ways be turned into some­thing to your ben­e­fit.

“You can turn ad­ver­sity into op­por­tu­nity,” Eck­man said.

SUBMITTED PHO­TOS

On April 28, 2002, a dev­as­tat­ing tor­nado left de­struc­tion and dam­age and rat­tled the peace and se­cu­rity of the La Plata com­mu­nity. The F4 tor­nado struck the Town of La Plata just af­ter 7 p.m..

SUBMITTED PHO­TOS

In 2012, the town wide exhibit called Mem­ory Lane doc­u­mented the re­cov­ery and re­newal that has taken place through­out the town since the tor­nado devastated the com­mu­nity on April 28, 2002.The exhibit pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to re­mem­ber the dev­as­ta­tion through a pictorial dis­play at each lo­ca­tion, and read a brief story of re­cov­ery.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

On April 28, 2002 a dev­as­tat­ing tor­nado left de­struc­tion and dam­aged much of the La Plata com­mu­nity.

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