LA PLATA, Md. — Deborah McClain was hiding in her basement with her husband and six children when La Plata was ripped by a deadly tornado, one of the most powerful in Maryland history.
"When it was over, I went upstairs and all you could see was the sky," said McClain, 41. "The roof was gone. The wall was gone. The beds had gone out the window."
The tornado delivered winds of more than 260 mph, making it the strongest on record in the state and topping the scale used to measure twisters.
Tornado-ravaged cities from Missouri to Maryland picked up the pieces Monday, a day after an unusually potent batch of storms plowed across the eastern U.S.
At least six people were killed, including three in a pair of hard-hit Maryland counties south of the nation's capital. More than 100 people were injured across the country and thousands lost power.
The tornado that hit La Plata was an F5, the most powerful, according to a preliminary determination by the National Weather Service. In Charles County alone, the twister destroyed six houses and left a track of damage 24 miles long and 400 yards wide. Damage still needed to be evaluated in Calvert County.
Under the Fujita scale, a twister with an F5 rating has winds from 261 mph to 318 mph. Maryland has never had an F5 and only two F4s are on record--including one in 1926 that killed 14 schoolchildren in La Plata.
Gov. Parris Glendening declared a state of emergency for Charles, Calvert and Dorchester counties, freeing the National Guard to help.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who surveyed the damage from the air, said the tornado appeared to have touched down "like a bouncing ball."
Among the dead was Margaret Albey, 74, whose small wood-frame home lay in the storm's path. Her body was found under a couch alongside her 77-year-old husband, George, who survived.
The tornado also destroyed a school. Public schools in Calvert County were closed Monday and will be closed again today. The roof caved in at Rock Church, which put up a small, temporary sign reading "Rock Church. God is still in control. Call for prayer."
The storms struck states throughout the Tennessee and Ohio valleys on Sunday before hitting Maryland. The northern edge of the system brought heavy snow to Wisconsin and Minnesota.