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Town's celebration marks its endurance

Dave's Rockin' Hog Rollers from Dave's barbecue won the annual bed races event May 1 during Celebrate La Plata.

La Plata, MD - Last Monday, May 2, as yet another threatening super cell cloud appeared over the Town of La Plata, residents feared the worst.

After all, they've seen this rodeo before.

La Plata is a town that knows about tornadoes. They also know a thing or two about endurance.

Fortunately, that May 2 storm dissipated into nothing more than a spectacular photograph and a good drenching.

“We’ve passed an ordinance that says you can’t use La Plata and tornado in the same sentence,” La Plata Mayor Roy Hale joked.

The irony was that just the day before, the town held its annual Celebrate La Plata event, originally conceptualized to help overcome the lingering effects of the devastating 2002 tornado which leveled 65 percent of the town.

Rebuilding from a twister that claimed five lives in Charles and Calvert counties before skipping out over the Chesapeake Bay following a 60-plus mile destructive, indiscriminate journey through Southern Maryland was no easy task.

“To say we were overwhelmed is an understatement,” Hale said. “It was very traumatic.”

The storm was the second destructive tornado to hit the town inside of 100 years. A November 1926 twister killed 13 children when it struck a school in the town.

“A former town councilmember, Frances Winkler, was in that school when that tornado struck,” Hale noted.

Hale said Charles County Government stepped up in a big way, providing temporary housing for some 8,000 citizens displaced by the storm.

“The county dealt with emergency housing and set up a medical facility so people could get emergency care,” he said.

The town's infrastructure suffered immense challenges, he added, noting the town lost water pressure when one of its towers ended up in a twisted pile of metal.

SMECO crews battled for days to restore electricity.

“We lost all of our power, all of our water pressure,” Hale noted. “It was a challenge just restoring basic services.”

Hale stressed the help the town received not only from the county, but the state and federal government, was immense.

The Ocean City director of operations called and asked how they could help. Emergency responders throughout state of Maryland sent 30-to-40 percent of their active fleet to the town, the District of Columbia, its emergency command center.

“Really the biggest challenge was getting the debris removed,” Hale recalled. “Without that removal, it was hard for people to move back. Everyone worked very hard to get it out very quickly.”

A businessman donated trailers so that local businesses would not relocate after the storm, which the mayor admitted would have been easy for some to do.

Despite the devastating nature of the storm, the town emerged bigger and better, if not scoured clean. Tornado sirens which provide some level of warning to citizens were one result of the 2002 twister, another was the Celebrate La Plata event which features the annual bed races, an absolute hoot.

It’s a town’s attempt to recover and celebrate its resiliency.

If folks should peer over their shoulder at the sky once in a while, just understand ... they've lerned to expect the unexpected.

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com

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