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17 died in Md. thunderstorms 40 years ago


It was one of Maryland’s worst natural disasters, claiming 17 lives. But few remember after 40 years. Bruce Sullivan does. A senior forecaster at the National Center for Environmental Prediction, he said a line of severe thunderstorms formed along a stalled front over Baltimore and Harford counties on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 1, 1971. They dumped more than 12 inches of rain in six hours. Rivers and creeks flooded. Most of the dead drowned. Scores more needed rescue. 

One of the most wrenching stories to come out of the storms was the heroism of Charles H. Schafferman, 26, of Essex. He was a non-swimmer, and he was on crutches from an ankle injury. He nevertheless plunged into floodwaters to rescue at least eight people stranded in the 6500 block of Pulaski Highway. The Navy veteran and tractor-trailer driver was last seen going to the aide of two children trapped on top of a car that had stalled in six feet of water. His body was found at Pulaski Highway and North Point Road after the water receded. He was nominated posthumously for a police department civilian heroism award.

At least four more people died trying to rescue others. They were volunteer firefighters Douglas Mueller, 18; Charles Hopwood, 42, Warren E. Shaffer, 22 and Milton C.R. DeSombre, 49, all from the Cowenton and Bowley's Quarters volunteer companies. They were trying to pull  a car and its occupants to safety in rain-swollen Bean Creek off Route 7 when they were swept into the creek and drowned. The car's driver died, too, but the man's wife and another firefighter were rescued after clinging to a tree for two hours. 

(SUN PHOTO: Aug. 1, 1971)  

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