In “Ripped from the Headlines: Laurel in the News,” the current exhibit at the Laurel Museum, there’s a panel in the Disasters section that covers the tornado that wreaked havoc through the Fairlawn neighborhood and beyond in September 2001—less than two weeks after 9/11. Remember, this was a town already on edge after learning that some of the hijackers had stayed in Laurel… and then a tornado literally blew through.
The panel features the cover of that week’s Laurel Leader, which included a stunning image of the funnel cloud moving just beyond Laurel Shopping Center and the Middletowne Apartments high rise.
The image wasn’t a photograph, but a video still from footage shot by Brian Alexander—shot from the fourth floor office of the former American National Bank building, which was demolished in 2012 to make way for a new Walgreens.
Until today, that was the only image I’d ever seen of the tornado itself, although there are plenty of photos of its aftermath. The tornado briefly reached the F3 category, with winds up to 160 mph. Laurel was fortunate that there were no casualties that day, although there was plenty of damage—portions of roofs were blown off Laurel High School, and the historic Harrison-Beard Building at Montgomery and Ninth Streets was nearly lost; one house along the 1000 block of Tenth Street was completely destroyed.
As yet another September is upon us, it’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since this happened. And it all came back vividly today when Steve Jones sent me the following footage—these appear to be the actual Brian Alexander video clips themselves, as well as some bonus footage of the aftermath.