"They did some amazing work in the dark."

Helicopter rescues

Similar stories played out across the county and the region, and provide compelling reads in newspaper clippings about the storm.

A woman in Columbia was washed away to her death, her date barely surviving. A family of six in Elkridge clung to an overturned boat for hours in the dark until they reached more shallow water. Responders in helicopters rescued two plant workers from a roof in Daniels — a town that was essentially wiped off the map — as well as two railroad engineers near Marriottsville. Bodies were pulled from the mud along the Patapsco.

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Newspaper clippings aside, there are also those who can still share firsthand accounts of the storm.

Velva Howard, 85, who lived up the hill from historic Ellicott City off Frederick Road, remembers leaving her father at her family's home and going with her mother — who'd been washed down the street during a previous flood and was terrified of the water — to higher ground.

Each of the next few days, her children went down the hill to help with the cleanup, she said, and when they came back, she would hose them down before they came in the house because they were covered in so much mud.

Will Sorg, 85, a Korean War veteran who lived in Valley Meade at the time, remembers taking the water pumps from St. Johns Lane Swim Club, where he was on the board, and going up and down Frederick Road looking for homes that needed water pumped out of their basements.

"People's basements had four or five feet of water. I'm not talking about inches," he said. "I would knock on their doors and say, 'You need some help?'"

Dorothy Biller, 78, said her family — including her sister and brother-in-law, who'd fled their home near the river on Levering Avenue in Elkridge — spent the entire night trying to save items in the basement of their home on Gorman Road, off Bethany Lane.

"We had to work all night to keep the water out," she said, noting they'd used snow shovels to scoop water into a galvanized bathtub.

"It's a wonder there's anything left in Ellicott City," Howard said.

Life goes on

According to Enalee Bounds, who redoubled her efforts and successfully threw a bicentennial celebration in the town just months after the storm, the damage caused by Agnes seemed "overwhelming" for a time.

"We were trying to spiff up the town and get everything ready," she said of her work when the storm hit. "All of the things we were preparing for were very difficult to get through, and we didn't know if we could get through it."

But people rallied together, she said, and formed the group Historic Ellicott City Inc., which is still in existence, to lead the recovery charge.

In fact, despite all the destruction, the vibrancy that the historic town enjoys today is in part due to Agnes, Bounds said.

The storm revived people's interest in Ellicott City and its history, she said.

"It probably helped the bicentennial celebration, because people's focus was already on Ellicott City," she said.

In the years since Agnes, the town has changed dramatically, said Ed Williams, who has co-owned Mumbles and Squeaks Toy Shoppe on Main Street since 1991 and who helped install the high-water markers — Agnes comes in at 14 1/2 feet — near the town's B&O Railroad Station Museum.

Williams said people like himself keep moving into the town and opening new shops, despite the stories from the past, the warnings of the power of the river and the threat that a storm like Agnes could come again.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the town and the river that people understand, he said. "The water and the ability for it to move rapidly was the whole reason the town became what it became, because the water could power the mill."

People today take their chances, buy insurance and prepare whenever heavy rains are predicted, Williams said. It's just part of life working in the old town, he said.

Enalee Bounds would agree with that assessment.

"When it rains a lot," she said on a recent sunny afternoon, "we don't sleep very well."