COLLEGE PARK - A tornado blazed a 10-mile-long path of destruction through Central Maryland at rush hour yesterday afternoon, killing two Howard County sisters and injuring dozens of people while ripping the roofs off buildings and flinging cars through the air.
The storm - whose winds were clocked as high as 206 mph - touched down in College Park at about 5:20 p.m. and tore north into Beltsville, Laurel and Savage, flipping trucks off of roads, shredding trees and twisting the goalposts at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium.
"It started out like it was going to be a strong thunderstorm and then you heard the wind start howling like I've never heard it before," said College Park Home Depot manager Eric Ziolkowski, who had about 100 employees and customers with him in the store when the storm hit, taking off the roof. "You could then start hearing and seeing the skylights start shattering, and then the front windows started blowing in."
Two students were killed when the storm picked up their car near the Easton Hall dormitory on the University of Maryland campus and threw it into a tree in a parking area, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for Prince George's County Fire and EMS.
A family friend, Dr. Clifford Turen, confirmed last night that the victims were sisters, Colleen Patricia Marlatt, 23, and Erin Patricia Marlatt, 20, of Triadelphia Mill Road in Clarksville.
The girls' father, F. Patrick Marlatt, is chief of the Fifth District Fire Department in Howard County and deputy director of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, whose trailers on the campus were destroyed by the tornado. He was taken to Washington Hospital Center with minor injuries.
It was there, according to Turen, that the father was notified that his two daughters, who had left the trailers where they were visiting their father moments before the storm hit, lost their lives in the tornado.
Colleen was a senior studying environmental policy due to graduate in January, and Erin was a sophomore studying sociology.
'The entire family is devastated," Turen said
Jason Gleeber, 19, a student from Elkton, raced outside the Easton dormitory to see if anyone was hurt. He saw the car about 75 feet above his head, he said.
"I saw the car flying in the air. I could see the bottom of it," Gleeber said. "It dropped. It just hit the ground."
Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared a state of emergency in Prince George's and Howard counties last night, calling the storm the worst natural disaster he has seen since taking office seven years ago.
"It is far more extensive than I think was initially reported," he said.
University President C.D. Mote Jr. canceled today's classes, saying, "We're in no position to conduct business as usual."
The storm touched down at the northern end of campus, near the football stadium and the dormitories where many freshmen live.
It destroyed the trailers used by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute outside the university's new performing arts center, trapping five people who were pulled out with minor injuries, Prince George's County fire spokesman Chauncey Bowers said.
Those in the trailer learned of the storm when one employee received a report of a tornado in Hyattsville on her pager. Two minutes later, they heard the wind, and everyone dove under tables.
Ann Davidson, the institute's director of administration, grabbed a nearby desk.
"The rest of me was airborne," she said. "Clearly anybody who survives this kind of devastation feels kind of lucky and blessed."
Davidson's 12-year-old daughter, Imogen Davidson White, was temporarily trapped under the strewn rubble and the desk she used for cover.
Toby Wilson, a copy specialist, was the only one thrown from the building.
He spotted a branch whipping by the window as the storm approached and "then the whole trailer shifted," he said. "The next thing I knew, I was out here about 75 [feet] to 80 feet away" in the mud, he said. "I've had better days."
Still, he came away with only cuts and bruises.
Bowers, of the Prince George's County fire department, said at least 50 people were injured in the storm. At least 15 of them were being treated at hospitals last night.
A Red Cross shelter was set up at 7901 Cypress St. in Laurel. People trying to track down someone injured in the tornado can call the Prince George's Crisis Hotline at 301-864-7161.
The storm also shattered windows at the arts center, badly damaged the north campus dining hall and toppled the steeple of the Pentecostal Holiness Church on Route 193, whose entire side was caved in. Up U.S. 1 in Beltsville, the storm caused a fertilizer leak at Behnke's nursery, which was being investigated last night.
Last night, about 3,000 students were evacuated from six damaged dorms and moved into temporary overnight quarters as investigators checked on propane leaks caused by the storm. About 50 cars were upended in College Park, with dozens more reported in the area, fire officials said, including a tractor-trailer traveling on the Capital Beltway north of U.S. 1.
The Beltway remained open, but U.S. 1 was closed in both directions in College Park while workers cleared damaged cars, downed power lines and trees.
Witnesses described the storm as a sudden, violent maelstrom that was all the more terrifying because it summoned images of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.
Jason Yellin, 27, of Columbia was driving home on Route 193 near Stadium Drive in College Park when the skies grew black and the wind started gusting.
"All of a sudden, my back window shatters all over me. The parts of trees start shooting into my car. It's filled with tree parts everywhere. My front-side door opens. It's not flush to the front, but it's angled toward the front. Now I'm scared to death," he said. "Immediately, I thought of everything that happened last week. I felt like this tornado was going to lift me up and take me away. So I was absolutely scared.
"[Later] I heard that two people had died. It was 100 yards from where I was."
Michael J. Wilson, 17, a freshman, was standing in his room on the first floor of the Easton dormitory when the tornado hit.
"You could almost see the wind. It was actually black," he said. "There was the running of the college students, literally by the hundreds, a lot of people ... panicking."
He described the north campus dining hall as looking like a "ripped cat toy," with broken windows and shredded blinds.
Senior economics major Matt Lariviere was getting ready for his fraternity's chapter meeting when he saw the tornado rip through campus from the doorstep of the Beta Theta Pi house.
The 21-year-old and three friends jumped in a car and followed the path of the twister from Fraternity Row to the high-rise dormitories on the north side of campus.
"It was just a wreck," Lariviere said of the parking lot behind the Elkton, Denton and Easton residence halls. "On every car in the lot - and there were about 600 cars - the windows were broken. Thirty to 50 cars were just tossed and flipped over."
Tahj Holden, 20, a junior forward with the Terrapins basketball team, was playing a pickup game at Cole Field House when the lights began to flash. Someone opened a door to see what was happening, and the wind ripped it from its hinges.
Glendening arrived at the campus shortly after 9 p.m. to survey the damage. Seeing the damage wrought in his home county gave him a sense of what it must have been like for New York officials to witness the destruction in lower Manhattan, he said.
"Now, literally going back to my hometown - fortunately the damage is not nearly as extensive - but going back literally to my hometown to see all this damage, is almost surreal," said Glendening, a former Prince George's County executive who taught at the university for 23 years.
The storm touched down just as University of Maryland catering staff members were serving a banquet for Prince George's County officials under a tent outside the performing arts center. Catering operations manager Ken Albright said the guests were fretting about whether it would start to rain when he turned and saw the funnel cloud coming at them.
"I yelled, 'Everyone get inside!'" Albright said.
When the storm struck, it upended the banquet tables, sending tortellini, beef and chicken flying in the air and shattering wine bottles, said campus dining service employees James Minano of College Park and Matthew Rogers of Columbia. Freshman Lindsey Koren's American cultures class was attending a presentation with a cast member of Survivor II at a north campus building when a woman rushed in and said told the class to move away from the windows.
"There is a huge tree cracked in half outside my building," Koren said.
Last night, campus officials evacuated dormitories near the performing arts center to investigate a propane leak, sending students looking for a place to spend the night.
The storm spared the southern end of campus, where most upperclassmen live, and where students reported little more than a heavy rainstorm.
The tornado comes three weeks after the unexplained death of a junior found dead at his frat house.
"It's just the beginning of the year, and every week there is something different," said Beatrice Ridore, 21, a senior. "It's just too hard to concentrate right now."
The tornado started at about 4 p.m. in Spotsylvania, Va., when a cold, dry front that stretched from Virginia to Canada collided with warm, moist air, said Jim Travers, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.
It moved north along Interstate 95 through Fairfax County, bypassing Washington. The storm apparently "skipped" along its path instead of staying on the ground, where it could have caused considerably more damage, Travers said.
The storm caused other tornadoes, including one that started near Culpeper, Va., and died out in Loudoun County, Va., and another in York County, Pa. Travers said more tornadoes were unlikely.
"It could have been a lot worse considering how long the storm path was," Travers said.
Sun staff writers Laura Barnhardt, Julie Bykowicz, Christian Ewell, Caitlin Francke, Lisa Goldberg, Richard Irwin, Sarah Koenig, Howard Libit, Jennifer McMenamin, Michael Scarcella, Jason Song and special correspondent Kieran Leary contributed to this article.