LA PLATA, Md. (WJZ) — On this day 20 years ago, one of the most powerful tornadoes to ever hit the Mid-Atlantic carved a 64-mile path across southern Maryland. 

“You wouldn’t recognize this town if you drove through it,” said La Plata Mayor Jeannine James.

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 It was 7 p.m. on a Sunday when the tornado struck the town of La Plata in Charles County, which caused a nearly half-mile wide swath of damage there, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm was responsible for the deaths directly and indirectly of five people and the injuries of another 122.

The NWS recorded a total of three deaths as a direct cause of the tornado, including a 51-year old man in Charles County and two Calvert County residents, a 68-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman.

The town added a memorial garden and park to commemorate the lives lost. Each person who died has their name on a bench.

With 5 being the highest rank on the Fujita Tornado Intensity Scale, or F-scale, the tornado was designated an F4 with destruction on the east side of town being most severe, an NWS report explained.

F4 tornado intensity means wind speeds ranging from 207 to 260 miles per hour, according to the Fujita scale definition.

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La Plata town officials estimated the storm caused millions of dollars in damages. It blew over businesses, flattened homes to their foundations and left many people picking up the pieces of their lives.

Assessors with the NWS found a total of 100 homes, 49 businesses and numerous barns destroyed.

One of those destroyed businesses was community staple, Martin’s Auto Repair and Towing on East Charles Street, which has been in town for 100-years now.

Owner Marty Martin said the storm caused the building to collapse. A complete remodel and rebuild took about 14-months to complete before the shop could reopen to the public.

“The neat thing with it was to see how many people, how quickly things were cleaned up, how quickly things were rebuilt and most people did it on their own,” said Martin.

La Plata plans to commemorate the 20th anniversary with a ceremony on the town hall concert lawn at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. There will be a moment of silence for those who died from the storm. The U.S. Navy Band Commodores will then follow with a concert performance. A memorial will also be on display inside the atrium. 

On Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., “Celebrate La Plata” will kick off with craft, food and other business vendors on display. The annual event was established as a way to celebrate the rebuilding of the town.

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“I don’t want La Plata to be defined as a town that has been devasted by a tornado. I rather promote La Plata as a town that perseveres and is resilient,” said Mayor James.

Cristina Mendez