ANNAPOLIS – Tornado damage closed Laurel High School Tuesday — along with all other Prince George’s County schools — but some teachers couldn’t stay away.
“I snuck in this morning,” said teacher Dale Brennan, who taught in one of the three classrooms now open to the elements. “There were 12 years worth of teaching materials in that room. I needed to rescue the kids’ grades and attendance reports.”
Brennan, a Laurel resident for more than 30 years, and other social studies teachers tried to salvage computer equipment, records and materials from damaged classrooms.
“It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Brennan who was in the gym with the girls’ volleyball team when the storm hit. “The room was trashed,” but all his teaching materials were safe inside file cabinets.
During the storm, he said, “it sounded like we were getting hit by a hailstorm. . . . Dirt and dust was being pushed under the door. The gym got foggy and then the lights went out.”
The girls remained calm, Brennan said.
While most county schools were closed because bus routes were littered with trees and downed power lines, Laurel High School took a more direct hit.
Six social studies classrooms were damaged, the greenhouse imploded, a temporary classroom was uprooted, fencing around athletic fields was torn from the ground and the scoreboard was mangled, said Principal Michael Martirano, who estimated that about 100 students were on the campus when the tornado struck around 5:45 p.m.
Just before it hit, Martirano had gone home. He’d been at the girls’ soccer game against rival St. Vincent Pallotti, but it was cancelled due to the weather. As soon as he walked through the door, his wife told him to go to the television.
He was back at the school within minutes and worked until 1:30 a.m. assessing the damage and making plans to move the displaced students into other classrooms.
“We want to keep continuity for our students,” Martirano said. He did not know when the school would reopen, but expected it would be soon.
The Laurel varsity football team was in the locker room about 100 feet across a small courtyard from the damaged classrooms watching game films Monday evening.
“I thought it was a plane overhead,” said Mike Rudden, Laurel’s first-year football coach.
He thought one of his players was joking when he looked outside and said it was a tornado.
“The first thing that was going through my mind was the kids,” Rudden said.
He moved the team into an interior hallway without windows to ride out the storm.
“For a split second I didn’t know if the end was here.”
This is the third time in the past two weeks Prince George’s schools closed. Administrators let out classes early Sept. 11 following the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, and closed all schools the following day in case any attack victims needed shelter in the schools. The battered wing of Laurel High School served as the backdrop for Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s news briefing Tuesday morning.
Flanked by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville, the governor expressed his sympathy for victims of the natural disaster and said he had declared a state of emergency for Prince George’s and Howard counties.
After surveying the damage from a state police helicopter Tuesday morning, Hoyer said, “We were lucky last night that we did not lose more.”
CNS staff writer Justin Paprocki contributed to this report.