High winds snap utility poles, destroy barn
CHURCH HILL — Not a tornado, but straight lines winds were to blame for the devastation in Roberts Station Friday night, May 19, said David Rivett, assistant chief, Queen Anne’s County Department of Emergency Ser vices, Special Operations Division.
The storm hit in the area of Roberts Station Road about 8:30 p.m., bringing hail, rain and the destructive winds. Thirteen utility poles were broken off, a barn destroyed, and Route 313 was closed for about eight hours, Rivett said.
After looking at the debris patterns and checking records from area towers, National Weather Service officials at Mt. Holly determined straight winds, exceeding 110 mph, struck the area, Rivett said.
“The barn just disintegrated. The poles were snapped mid-shaft,” he said.
Church Hill Volunteer Fire Department responded to wires down on Route 19 near Rabbit Hill Road and Brierley Mill Road at 8:47 p.m.
The initial dispatch was for one vehicle with wires on top of it, said Church Hill VFD 1st Assistant Chief Steve Hurlock. “Then enroute we were told it was multiple vehicles and multiple poles.”
When firefighters arrived they could see at least four poles down, still with live wires on them, and a line of cars with their flashers on, he said.
In all, there were 10 vehicles amongst the poles and wires, Hurlock said, but only the first one in line — a truck pulling a trailer — actually had wires on top of it.
The last car in line, near Big Woods Road, was trapped between two poles and wires were up against the driver’s side door, Hurlock said. “She couldn’t go forward or backward.”
Others were mixed in between the poles, some straddling wires.
“They were all lucky enough to be in between the poles somehow,” he said.
Hurlock praised the motorists caught in the wires and the dispatchers who took their calls.
It wasn’t necessarily that people were trapped, just that it was dangerous to get out because there were live wires on the ground and all around the cars, he said.
“Everyone was very cooperative. They did a very good job of listening to authorities,” Hurlock said. Everyone was told, “Don’t get out of your vehicles.” No one was injured.
He called for Delmarva Power to respond and shut down power so the wires could be moved and the cars extricated. Sudlersville Volunteer Fire Company, Mar yland State Police and county paramedics also responded to assist.
Delmarva Power shut down electricity to the area at the substation on Route 19, then stayed on the scene to help with the cars, Hurlock said.
The last vehicle to be cleared was the truck with the wires on top of it. It was between two poles and the wires were still attached, creating too much tension for it to move. Delmarva Power brought in a truck to lift one of the poles, so the truck could get out, he said.
Getting all the vehicles clear took between two and two and a half hours, Hurlock said.
While the firefighters were out helping motorists, they noticed pieces of mangled tin and sheet metal in the road and field next to it. The debris was what was left of David and Sharon Clark’s barn, a metal pole building on their farm, where they were storing a combine.
The combine had not moved, but the building around it was gone, Hurlock said.
“It was taken right off the foundation and just shredded,” Rivett said.
The silo next to the barn was untouched and the farmhouse only missing a couple pieces of siding, Rivett said.
Route 19 was shut down at Route 301 and Route 313, the State Highway Administration set up detours while emergency work was going on. Delmarva Power pulled crews in from Salisbury and Centreville to replace the utility poles and worked for hours into the morning to restore power to the area, Hurlock said.
People nearby thought a tornado had struck, but there was no rotation in the debris pattern, Rivett said.
“… it was most surreal thing we’ve ever seen, near zero visibility, fierce high winds and flying debris, saw two larger than road width “white things” roll across road in front of us, thankful no sparking lines or fire and no injuries!!” Steve Donovan wrote on CHVFD’s Facebook page.
“I live just right around the road from there. That was insane. It’s just about a mile from us,” said Cricket Williams, who lives on Merrick Corner Road. The Clarks’ daughter was at Williams’ house and talking on the phone with her mom during the storm. “There was nothing happening here.
“It appeared to be very isolated to just the stretch of Route 19 between Brierley Mill Road and Big Woods Road. So happy it didn’t come across the field.”
Just down the road, Williams said her mom got large hail. And her friend Gina Lancaster, who lives on Rabbit Hill Road, sort of behind the Clark farm, said her hay hut got picked up and dropped on top of a tree, Williams said.
Williams said she and her husband rode around the next morning about 6:30 to look at things. The pictures really didn’t do the destruction justice, she said.
They were impressed by Delmarva Power. “We were surprised they had them (the replacement poles) up as fast as they did,” She said.
The event was isolated to a small area. The bulk of the devastation took place in a three-quarter mile span, Hurlock said.
Rivett said Queen Anne’s County experienced a similar event with straight line winds at the Rhodes farm on Brick Schoolhouse Road in Centreville last year, where the storm cut a chicken house in half — and it was the middle house of three.
Afterward, “you could look up in the trees and see chickens and everything,” he said.
Friday’s storm destroyed a barn on David and Sharon Clark’s farm.
GRAPHIC BY DAVID RIVETT
Ten vehicles were stranded Friday night, May 19, when a storm knocked down utility poles on Roberts Station Road. Church Hill Volunteer Fire Department and Delmarva Power responded.