Officials assess storm damage

September 21, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL and DAVE McMILLION

TRI-STATE - The National Weather Service, which earlier determined that a tornado hit Boonsboro Friday night, on Monday confirmed that a tornado also touched down in the Darkesville area.

Maryland and law enforcement officers in the Tri-State area warned those affected by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan to beware of scams.

In West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, the National Weather Service confirmed that an F-2 tornado struck the Darkesville area of Berkeley County, W.Va., along Interstate 81 on Friday night. About a dozen injuries were reported. F-2 tornados have winds of 113 to 157 mph.


About 15 structures in Darkesville were severely damaged, Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said.

On Monday, two representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a state official went to Darkesville to begin determining how much damage was caused by the tornado, said Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services.

The team also went to Morgan County, W.Va., to inspect damage there, Allen said.

No damage estimates were finalized as of Monday afternoon, Allen said.

Allen said he was unsure if the damage in Berkeley County would warrant the county receiving a federal disaster declaration.

President Bush on Monday issued a federal disaster declaration for eight West Virginia counties hit by flooding. Berkeley County was not one of them.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise Wise said other counties might be added to the list of those eligible later in the week.

Washington County Sheriff's Department Capt. Douglas Mullendore said he was the first to report to the department the tornado in the Roxbury Road area outside of Boonsboro that damaged at least five homes in the town.

According to a National Weather Service Web site, the Boonsboro area was struck by an F-0 tornado, which carries winds of 60 to 70 miles per hour.

Boonsboro Mayor Charles Kauffman Jr., said no properties inside the town's boundaries were severely damaged by the tornado.

Several investigations involving damage to areas in the western portion of the county have not been completed, the Web site said.

Berkeley County Sheriff's Department Lt. Dennis Streets said authorities were warning of scam artists, such as fake contractors or roofers, who might try to profit from people's storm-related losses. Streets said many scam artists ask for money up front for jobs such as replacing a roof or removing trees, then never return to complete the promised task.

"To be honest, it happens a good bit," Streets said. "We've had numerous incidents over the years," but it hasn't happened yet this time.

Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. William Baker said such scams have not occurred much in the McConnellsburg, Pa., area, which was pounded by more than 6 inches of rain over the weekend. Still, Baker said people should remember that "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is."

In Washington County, Mullendore suggested that residents in the Tri-State area ask contractors who approach them to show them their licenses and provide references.

Mullendore said authorities encourage residents to use companies that have established a respectable reputation in the area.

"It's just like any other type of fraud, really," Mullendore said. "They'll say 'give me a couple thousand (dollars), and I'll have it done within 10 days.'"

Mullendore said people have been known to go to great lengths, including starting a small portion of the work or printing up official letterhead with the fake company's name, to convince people of their legitimacy.

He said people should be even more careful following disasters.

"A lot of time people don't take the time to check to see if they're reputable or not," he said. "They're in the frame of mind where someone could take advantage of them."

Beware of scams

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency released the following advice Monday to people solicited by would-be contractors:

· Do not give banking information or Social Security numbers to phone solicitors.

· Ask contractors for proof of both disability and workers' compensation insurance.

· Ask for a written estimate and a written contract that is completed.

· Do not give anyone an advance payment in cash, and make sure the payment schedule is made clear in all contracts.

· The state does not endorse any individual loan companies or contractors, so those that claim to have the state's support are doing so falsely.

· Be suspicious of anyone who offers to increase the amount of your disaster damage assessment.

The agency said anyone who believes they have been victimized by fraudulent activity may call the Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 410-528-8662.

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