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Heavy rains batter county; flood warning extended to Thursday morning

Ellicott City's Main Street flooded; school system cancels after-school activities

By Lindsey McPherson, lmcpherson@patuxent.com

11:11 PM EDT, September 7, 2011

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Heavy rains flooded roads and streams throughout Howard County Wednesday afternoon, stranding motorists and prompting the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood warning.

The heavy rains continued Wednesday night, and the flood warning was extended until 4 a.m. Thursday.

On Wednesday afternoon, Howard County government officials were at the Emergency Operations Center monitoring conditions.

"As of now there are no injuries reported or accidents reported," county spokeswoman Samantha O'Neal said at approximately 3:30 p.m.

At 3:05 p.m., the National Weather Service reported "only light rain remained over the area. However, earlier widespread rain of three to five inches continues to cause streams to overflow with numerous roads flooded and closed."

A list of road closings can be found on the county's website.

The weather service report noted that the Little Patuxent River near I-95 and Route 32 had reached 13.6 feet, the highest recorded level since 2006, and was still rising at a rate of 18 inches per hour. The highest level ever recorded was 18.38 feet in 1972, when Hurricane Agnes hit.

Carrie Suffern, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the combination of a warm front moving across the area and the moisture from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee produced Wednesday's heavy storms and flooding, with two to three inches of rain falling within an hour or two.

The Department of Fire and Rescue Services responded to several calls of flooding and motorists stranded in high waters, spokeswoman Jackie Cutler said.

The biggest problem, she said, was on Main Street in historic Ellicott City, an area prone to flooding, where the fire department has evacuated the 8200 through 8500 blocks, from the county line to Cacoa Lane. Officials from the county's Department of Recreation and Parks were in downtown Ellicott City around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to check on the historic buildings.

Another area of concern is Frederick Road at the Rogers Avenue intersection, Cutler said. O'Neal said several homes also have been evacuated in the Valley Mede community of Ellicott City.

In Columbia, South Entrance Road, which connects Little Patuxent Parkway to Route 29 southbound, was closed in the early afternoon. With water flooding onto Route 29 near that ramp, traffic headed southbound was stopped and diverted onto westbound Route 175. At approximately 2:30 p.m., traffic was observed to be backed up to Route 108.

The Columbia Association also reported the flooding of several of its pathways, mostly those close to lakes, ponds and streams. Lakes Elkhorn and Kittamaqundi have both flooded, said CA spokeswoman Kelly Cooper. Rob Goldman, CA's chief operating officer, advised residents to avoid those areas.

The county was encouraging residents experiencing flooding to go to higher ground or seek shelter at the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia (5470 Ruth Keeton Way) until the storm passes, O'Neal said. The Ellicott City Senior Center is no longer open as a shelter.

In the county school system, all after-school activities have been canceled and sporting events postponed. The school system is reporting that CA and Recreation and Parks Department's after-care activities will continue as scheduled. CA employees are on liberal leave, said Shelia Green, CA spokeswoman.

While all schools were scheduled to dismiss at their scheduled times, the central office reported, many busses may have been delayed in getting to the schools because of flooding.

The school system transportation office alerted bus drivers that if they could not complete their bus route due to a road closure, they should return to the school with the students.

Walkers at elementary and middle schools were told to stay at their school and wait to be picked up. Parents and guardians were urged to pick up students as quickly as possible. Some schools, like Dunloggin, Folly Quarter, Glenwood, Mount View and Patuxent Valley middle schools released walking students early.

Running Brook Elementary School reported its phone system was not working.

The rain set off the fire alarm at Mt. Hebron High School, with water leaking through the roof of a portable classroom and setting off a smoke detector. The building had been evacuated and the fire department responded.

Mt. Hebron also reported small amounts of flooding in the school's front hallway, and water coming into several classrooms through windows, leaking ceiling tiles or air units.

At Worthington Elementary School, several classrooms on the perimeter of the building experienced flooding as well, with water coming in from under the doors where the side field had flooded. Those students were relocated to other classrooms.

At several schools, students in portable classrooms were moved indoors and placed in other classrooms.

Columbia resident Carolyn Hunt, who has lived in the Stevens Forest community for 35 years, said this is the first time she's seen the creek, which is about 100 feet from the back of her house, rise enough to overflow and reach halfway to her house.

On Main Street in historic Ellicott City, parts of the road were covered in knee-deep, rushing water, and fire and rescue swift water teams were walking up and down the street.

"You couldn't walk across the street, it was knee-high," said Spencer Padgett, who works with Arrisbrook Builders.

Padgett had been having lunch at the recently opened Subway on Main Street when the streets started flooding — so much that water seeped into the Subway.

"It started ripping bumpers off cars," he said.

Upon returning to his office up the street, at 8320 Main Street, Padgett observed water pouring out of the first floor.

Ellicott Mills Brewery bartender Joe Stanley said the flooding, which started around noon, "was scary; it was so fast.

"It was insane. We got a lot of damage," he added. The brewery's basement dining area was flooded with three feet of water.

Terri Trembeth, who lives in a second story apartment at 8298 Main Street, said she looked outside and saw water covering the street and a car stuck in the road.

"It looks like a mini-Niagara Falls," she said.

But 75-year-old Leroy Oates, who lives in Ellicott Terrace Apartments, said the flooding is "minor" compared to the Main Street flooding after Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

"That one was all the way up to Columbia Pike," he said.

Staff writers David Greisman, Kevin Rector and Sara Toth contributed to this report.