By Cheryl Costello
When strong storms battered most of the Chesapeake region last Wednesday night, we couldn’t believe the news out of Maryland’s isolated Smith Island. A waterspout came ashore as an EF1 tornado, damaging homes, shacks and boats. Getting help and supplies to the island by boat is no small feat.
But in the days after the storm, an incredible support effort has grown to more than $100,000 in donations and supplies keep flowing in.
When the waterspout formed just off Smith Island, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Smith Island educator Rachel Muth watched the clouds twist into the shape of a pointing finger. She was in Tylerton, one of three communities on the 9-square-mile island.
“So we were watching from a distance…and it eventually reached the water and formed a full waterspout,” Muth recalls.
That waterspout reached land, becoming a tornado that was later classified as EF1 by the National Weather Service in Wakefield, Va., based on the damage and radar activity.
“It was less than a minute it was over and gone,” says Mary Ada Marshall, a 75-year-old nationally known for her Smith Island cakes.
Marshall has lived on the island all her life and has never seen the likes of the damage. She was in church when the tornado hit.
“The wind began to pick up and we started to pray, and it veered off about 75 feet from where we were sitting. We were told to get to the middle of the tabernacle and hold our heads down, which we did,” Marshall recounts. “And as it passed by, I saw it take down a shed. It continued right out to the waterfront where it lifted a boat up in mid-air.”
An Airbnb known as Island Time had its entire third floor swept off. And just off the property, an elderly woman’s house was destroyed around her.
“A lady who is 89 years old was laying in her bed and her whole house is just laying in ruins. It’s like sticks laying all over everywhere,” says Marshall.
Amazingly, only minor injuries were reported following the tornado, which came ashore in Rhodes Point and traveled north to Ewell.
“It flattened our only gas station that we have here on the island,” Marshall says. “It flattened pumps, flat as a slice of bread.”
Bay photographer Jay Fleming, a frequent contributor to our parent company Chesapeake Bay Media, started a GoFundMe that has exceeded $100,000 in just a few days. He says 100 percent of the funds will be distributed to the people and businesses on Smith Island by the advocacy organization Smith Island United.
Muth is in awe of the surrounding region rallying to help Smith Island. “I just think it’s kind of a cool thing to see the community engagement and how responsive people on Tylerton were to get out on their boats and head over to Rhodes Point and Ewell to see if anyone needed help.”
The president of Ewell Volunteer Fire Company says power and water supply were up and running as of Sunday morning (four days after the storm) but there is a group organizing future cleanup efforts as debris is still scattered everywhere.