Tornado cleanup efforts continue
STEVENSVILLE — Scott Haas, director of emergency services, told the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners July 25 that it might be two years until the tornado ravished areas of Kent Island are fully recovered. One week after the EF-2 tornado ripped roofs off houses, threw tree limbs into homes and bent power poles, government agencies, local organizations and groups of community members have begun the long process of restoring the area to its former glory.
Citizens of the communities most affected by the July 24 tornado on Kent Island have been unanimous in their praise for the emergency response effort.
On Monday morning, July 31, employees from the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives teamed up with the county’s Department of Public Works and local volunteers to aid residents in Bay City and the surrounding area in clearing debris and completing specific cleanups the homeowner needed finished.
Department of Public Works Director Todd Mohn said crews would be driving around the area taking destroyed items and debris for the next two weeks. Homeowners can bring their items out to the edge of their road and county crews will come by and remove them.
Mohn said Jim DiDonato’s construction company donated multiple Dumpsters to load with debris, which helped clean up a few extra properties on Monday.
Mohn, who was on site the morning the tornado passed through, said “it’s a big difference in there now” in terms of neighborhood destruction. The past week, Mohn said county workers and volunteers had made “outstanding progress.”
Tales of neighbors helping neighbors abound. Bay City resident Louis Salano, 81, survived having the entire roof taken off his home while he was sleeping.
“I actually had just fallen asleep at about 12:45 a.m., before the tornado hit. When the roof came off my house, the ceiling came down on me while I was lying in the bed. That was the cause of the wound I received on my back. From the continuing lightning flashes, I saw a small opening on the floor to crawl outside before the wall fell down,” Salano said. “My good neighbors drove past and saw me outside in the heavy rain as I huddled down by my car. They took me inside their car and covered me.”
The Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department took Salano to the emergency center for treatment.
“I want everyone to know how grateful I am to all who helped me, especially my closest neighbors, the fire department, those who treated me at the emergency room in Queenstown, and my Kent Island Elks friend Angela Meyer, who presented me a check for $1,000 from the lodge to help with expenses. Those who came Tuesday to help me go through what remained of the house to retrieve my few belongings. Considering all my friends’ help, I truly feel blessed,” Salano said.
Jessica Testerman, one of several people in Bay City who lost their homes, had unending praise for the first responders and volunteers who came to help.
She said, “They were all terrific, great! I had so many people come by to ask to help us. People offered me clothes, food, money (which I didn’t accept) in attempts to help. People who didn’t even live here and I didn’t know personally, offered help. It was amazing!”
A group of Queen Anne’s County residents have been out every day since the storm helping homeowners get back on their feet using Facebook as their medium to help.
Scott Saunders published a message on his Facebook account the morning of July 25 asking how he could individually help those in need, and immediately someone reached out, he said.
The person who reached out had trees blocking most of the front of the house and the back porch had collapsed. Saunders said he went over, cut the trees away, helped clean up and then posted another message to Facebook asking who else he could help.
The messages kept pouring in, both from those in need and those looking to help.
After gathering a handful of people that later turned into about 20 volunteers, Saunders and crew helped a homeowner in Ellendale unscrew things from the walls, pack up their garage and move items to the front yard.
Saunders again went to Facebook to see who needed help after the job was completed.
By 11 a.m. Wednesday, Saunders had a list of people willing to help. Going door to door seeing if people needed assistance, Saunders found 16 houses that needed work. With a group of about 50 people, Saunders said those 16 houses were served that evening, followed up by 14 houses the following day.
Through Facebook, Saunders hooked up with Lucy Kruse and Aaron Bereznak and began communicating nonstop with them trying to coordinate volunteers and those in need. The team directed groups of volunteers to homeowners in need through the Facebook page “Kent Island Happenings.”
Saunders praised the work Kruse and Bereznak have completed so far, as well as their enthusiasm to help. He said the three of them act as a team in coordinating various relief efforts.
“People have been just shockingly willing to get involved and do stuff,” Saunders said.
After a few nights, Saunders said people and community groups were reaching out to them for jobs large and small. Without trying to take jobs away from contractors, volunteers have been out every day clearing debris, moving furniture and completing home repairs.
Kruse said hordes of kids over the weekend were carrying branches, raking lawns and pulling wheelbarrows. She said the atmosphere of fellowship was amazing.
Though homes were damaged and items were destroyed, a strong sense of community and helping a neighbor had been displayed the past week, Saunders said.
One difficulty the group has experienced is homeowners not asking for assistance when it is needed. “People’s willingness to help is enormous,” Saunders said. “People’s willingness to ask for help is staggeringly small sometimes.”
Kruse said sometimes people don’t know how to ask for help or are too humble to do so.
No matter if other people have it worse, Saunders said the group of volunteers they established would go out and help because the entire goal is to get residents back on their feet and get life back to normal.
“Just show up” is one of Kruse’s mantras, one she has followed every day since the storm. She said by just showing up and making the effort it can give homeowners hope that their “life will go back to normal.”
She said when helping others “you can see it in their faces they are so happy.”
Kruse said after getting off the bus from work in D.C. last Tuesday, she knew she wanted to help. Without direction, Kruse grabbed a pair of gloves and went into Bay City looking for people in need. When she asked someone if she could help, she said they had a big smile.
Kruse and Saunders spoke about an elderly couple in Bay City that was having trouble keeping their dog in the backyard as their fence had been damaged. Saunders said Bereznak walked the fence line multiple times in the pouring rain looking for various ways the small dog could get free. Within 20 minutes of posting on Facebook looking for someone to fix the fence, Kruse said a company reached out and offered to repair it for free.
Kruse and Saunders said multiple companies, from Queen Anne’s County and outside, have supported their efforts in helping, providing services at no charge.
Hoping to harness the energy and enthusiasm displayed by community members, Saunders said a Facebook group will be created in the coming days that will be a central place people seeking as well as offering help can go. But this group, he said, will hopefully provide people with everyday assistance needs, not just storm-related damages.
“This has blown me away and I want this to continue,” Saunders said. “I want people to continue to be engaged with their neighbors.”
Though the volunteers have been all throughout damaged areas and completing various types of needs, Saunders said they are staying away from dangerous jobs.
When speaking about all the people who have helped, Saunders listed off businesses that came to help for free. If someone had a hole in their ceiling from limb damage, Saunders knew a company that would, rain or shine, come out and tarp the roof for free. He said a tree cutting service offered cutting and chipping assistance.
The community response to such a situation as a tornado blasting through a densely populated area has been “amazing,” Saunders said.
Saunders said he was impressed with those individuals because, instead of handing out business cards, they handed out their time.
For people looking to help or receive assistance, contact Saunders at 410490-2081 or message him, Kruse or Bereznak on Facebook.
The Batts Neck Transfer Station will have extended hours through Saturday, Aug. 5. The transfer station will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Residents and their contractors may use Batts Neck Transfer Station to dispose of yard waste storm debris with no fees or tickets charged during the cleanup period. Residents must use their ticket books for disposal of construction and demolition debris, such as lumber, singles, glass, metal and other general storm damaged building materials with no volume restrictions.
For more information, contact the Department of Public Works at 410-7580920.
Volunteers work at a home in Bay City Saturday. Some of the volunteers included members of the Kingsman Motorcycle Club.
George Rider of Bay City helps his neighbor Bradley Laning cut stumps off at the ground, Saturday morning, July 29.
Two girls pull an ice chest to a job site and offer lunches and cold drinks to volunteers helping clear debris after a tornado stormed through Kent Island July 24.
Queen Anne’s County Administrator Gregg Todd, left, shows Maryland Congressman Andy Harris one of the Bay City homes destroyed by the July 24tornado. Harris toured Kent Island Wednesday, Aug. 2, to see the damage to the area.