La Plata to mark 15 years after tornado
County remembers devastation, rebuilding efforts
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.
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..
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.
On April 28, 2002 a devastating tornado left destruction and damaged much of the La Plata community.