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Neighborhoodsby Fern Shen10:49 pmApr 3, 20160

Strong winds topple West Baltimore vacants

The structures that collapsed were unoccupied, but two of them are across the street from Matthew Henson Elementary School

Above: Gusting wind early this morning knocked the top off this vacant house on Fulton Avenue. (Fern Shen)

Heavy winds this morning blew down several vacant rowhouses in West Baltimore, including two across the street from an elementary school and one two blocks from the spot where Freddie Gray was arrested.

Passersby this afternoon gaped at 1625 North Payson Street, a rowhouse whose roof and walls at the top appeared to have been ripped away, like a raggedly shorn-off cereal box.

“I walked by here yesterday. I stood right in that spot,” said Kelly Curney, pointing to the side of buildings, where brick, wood and other debris had fallen in a heap and scattered across the sidewalk.

“That could have been me,” she said.

Curney had good reason to be counting her blessings. She had read about the death of retiree Thomas Lemmon after a vacant rowhouse in the 900 block of North Payson Street collapsed on him Monday.

“You know a man got killed just sitting in his car,” said Curney, pointing toward the spot, just a few blocks up Payson, where the incident occurred.

(Lemmon had reportedly been sitting in his Cadillac listening to music when the collapse occurred.)

Bricks toppled onto Presbury Street when this vacant fell, luckily in the wee hours when no one was walking by. (Fern Shen)

Bricks toppled onto Presbury Street when a portion of this vacant house, 1701 North Fulton Avenue, fell over early this morning. (Fern Shen)

Winds gusting to 60 miles an hour were bringing down trees branches and prompting authorities to issue wind warnings for area bridges.

In Baltimore, the heavy winds were taking vacants down patricularly in West Baltimore. In addition to the houses on North Payson, another rowhouse collapsed nearby at 1701 North Fulton Avenue, at the intersection with Presbury Street.

There were also reports of a collapsed building at Mosher and Vinson Street and another near North Fremont and Riggs Street that damaged several cars.

From Tania Baker, director of communications for Baltimore Housing, this morning: “After the partial collapses, the city conducted emergency demolition of 1609 Mosher and 1701 & 1703 N. Fulton yesterday to ensure public safety. In addition, 1625 N. Payson, 1526 Druid Hill, 1523 Retreat and 1036 Arlington were condemned by City Building inspectors but did not require emergency demolition. These properties are being re-evaluated this morning.”

Curney said the city needs to take action to protect residents from the dilapidated buildings: “They’ve got to either knock these houses down or do something with them.”

“We Have Children Walking By”

Residents in the 1600 block of North Payson, a mix of occupied homes and vacants, are pretty sure they know when the buildings on their street blew down.

vacants cheatham and johnson

Doc Cheatham and Michael Johnson survey the damaged building and fallen bricks on North Payson Street. (Fern Shen)

“It was about 2:30 or 3 in the morning. We had a jolt of wind that actually shook the house like a hurricane. That must be when it happened,” said Michael Johnson, 74. “My walls went like this,” he said, wiggling his body.

Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, president of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association, said by daybreak he began getting calls from the neighbors about the collapse. One of their main concerns: that Matthew Henson Elementary School is right across the street.

“We have children and parents walking right on this sidewalk – thank god this didn’t happen during the day,” said Cheatham. “I called the principal, the mayor, our councilman. I called everyone I could.”

He pointed out a part of one of the buildings that  looks like it is still unsafe.

“The roof on these buildings was already gone,” he said. “The wind must have gotten up under there and lifted it off.”

In the nearby collapse at 1701 North Fulton, it was also the roof that collapsed.

Later in the day, crews hired by the city could already be seen taking the entire dilapidated structure down.

It stood right across from a mural made to remember Gray, who died last April after his arrest by police just a few blocks away on Presbury.

“The Power of the People,” it reads.

The collapsed roof of 1625 North Payson Street, after heavy early morning wind. (Fern Shen)

The collapsed roof of 1625 North Payson Street, following a night of unusually heavy wind. (Fern Shen)

The gap between 1625 North Payson Street, which collapsed, and 1621 North Payson Street. (Fern Shen)

The gap between 1625 North Payson Street, which collapsed, and 1621 North Payson Street. (Fern Shen)

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