A day after a tornado touched down on Smith Island in Somerset County, officials were working Friday to restore power to customers there and to clean up debris as neighbors came together in support.
Chief Deputy Paul Keplinger of the county sheriff’s office said Friday afternoon that just one person was reported injured while about 20 homes and five or six boats were damaged. He said three or four homes had “major damage” and that many houses remained without power.
Nathan Jones, a Smith Island resident who works at the Smith Island Cultural Center, was driving between Ewell and Rhodes Point on Thursday evening when he saw a waterspout on the Chesapeake Bay became a tornado on Smith Island. Initially, he said, seeing the water spout — from a distance, and before it made landfall — was a cool experience because he had never seen one before.
“But then it hit land and started tearing stuff apart, it got pretty bad,” he said.
The next day, Nathan Jones said he was doing fine — as was “just about everybody” on the island.
“There is definitely damage on 20 or so buildings, but there are only a few houses that wouldn’t be livable, and one seems fixable,” he said. “The main thing is just the debris, it’s strewn across everywhere.”
Robert Joseph Jones, who is president of the Ewell Volunteer Fire Department (and Nathan Jones’ brother), said debris was scattered “from one end of the island to the other.”
He said residents were pulling together to help those who did not have power back, or who needed water, and working on debris cleanup.
“Everyone here has been teaming up like family,” he said.
If folks are looking to make donations, he said, they can take cases of water and other supplies, such as tarps and heavy-duty trash bags, to the dock in Crisfield, where the ferry leaves for Smith Island.
Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday morning that he’d offered “the full resources of the state” to help with the response.
A spokesperson from A&N Electric Cooperative, the Virginia-based utility that provides power to Smith Island, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The island sits on the bay, at the border of Maryland and Virginia. Three trucks and four utility poles were ferried to Smith Island Friday morning, according to reporting from The Baltimore Sun.
Tim Gingrich, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said the tornado made landfall at 7:22 p.m., plus or minus a few minutes. He said the cell “increased quick” and then went its way. He confirmed the tornado was an EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures the intensity of tornados. An EF1 is classified as a “weak” tornado and has estimated wind speeds of 73 mph to 112 mph.
As of 3 p.m. Friday, a GoFundMe site, set up to help victims of the tornado and organized by a local photographer, had raised more than $45,900.
Jay Fleming, an Annapolis-based photographer who organized the online fundraiser, said he initially hoped to raise a few thousand dollars to be able to help in a small way. As donations continued to pour in, Fleming had to keep increasing the goal amount so that people could continue to donate.
“It’s going to be costly to build back what was destroyed. Everything on the island, if you think about it, everything that has to come out there, it’s difficult to get it out there,” Fleming said. “There’s no bridge connecting it to the mainland.”
Fleming said the funds raised will go directly to Smith Island United, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and serving Smith Island and its residents. A voicemail left with Smith Island United was not immediately returned.
“I’m hopeful that this will help the people who need the help to get back on their feet,” Fleming said.
Friday morning, former state Del. Heather Mizeur, a Democrat who is running against U.S. Rep. Andy Harris to represent Maryland’s 1st Congressional District — which includes Smith Island — shared a link to the GoFundMe site via social media.
Mizeur’s campaign also made a $500 donation to the recovery efforts, a spokesman confirmed. About an hour later, Mizeur tweeted criticism of Harris for not yet addressing the storm or recovery efforts.
“My thoughts and support are with the residents of Smith Island affected by the storm last night. I’m looking to see if there is anything that the federal or state government can do to help,” he tweeted.
The congressman’s Washington, D.C. office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Elsewhere in Maryland, tens of thousands have been without power since Thursday night’s storms. As of noon Friday, Baltimore Gas and Electric said it had restored power to about 50,000 customers, but more than 24,000 customers did not yet have power.