Hazel Chung-Hood

Hazel Chung-Hood holds a Playbill from her Broadway performance in "The King and I." Her studio and backyard were flooded by Tropical Storm Lee more than a month ago. (Sarah Pastrana / October 26, 2011)

Hazel Chung-Hood lives her life according to the elements.

It was one of them — water — that recently wreaked havoc on her life. Six weeks ago, waters from Tropical Storm Lee rose 2 feet in her backyard, nearly destroying the studio in the back of her Ellicott City home. That ruined most of the notes, recordings and papers belonging to her late husband, well-known author and ethnomusicology pioneer Mantle Hood, that she had planned to donate to the University of California, Los Angeles.

"I stood here," she said, standing in her backyard. "It was like the Mississippi River flowing. I didn't know what to do."

The studio housed Chung-Hood's business, an ohashiatsu instructional facility, where she has been teaching the therapeutic method of healing touch for 25 years. She and her staff have been unable to work for six weeks, she said, and she's lost thousands of dollars in repairs and business.


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Chung-Hood's Spring Ridge neighborhood — and in particular, her house on Deerfield Drive — is in the eye of a perfect storm for flooding in backyards and basements, caused by what residents say is a lack of storm-water management on the part of the county. Topography and other factors contribute to the problem, and Chung-Hood and her neighbors, prompted by Tropical Storm Lee, are seeking help from the county, a task that got under way last week when an official from the county's Department of Public Works met with residents.

In the meantime, Chung-Hood, who is in her 70s, had to gut her studio, replacing windows and carpeting.

Some things, however, are not so easy to replace. A tiny room in her home is crammed with opened boxes of destroyed videocassettes, photos, programs, books, letters and posters. Memories are laid out on the table to dry, the edges of photos crinkled with water damage.

What is in the room is what Chung-Hood managed to salvage from the flood and dry out with a hair dryer. What's in the room represents only a small part of two lifetimes — Chung-Hood's and that of her late husband's.

Before her life as an ohashiatsu instructor, Chung-Hood was a Juilliard-trained dancer, living and working in New York City, where she appeared on Broadway with Yul Brynner in "The King and I." She's also lived and danced in Indonesia; California; Hawaii; and, finally, Maryland.

Her husband was the founder of the ethnomusicology program at UCLA and then again at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The majority of his work was lost.

"That's the hard part, just dealing with how much we've lost," Chung-Hood said, tears in her eyes. "It shows you how impermanent life and collections are."

'A neighborhood problem'

Chung-Hood's home is roughly two miles from Main Street in historic Ellicott City, which saw massive flooding Sept. 7. Despite being geographically removed from what could be considered the worst of the damage, Chung-Hood and her neighbors still experienced the hardship of flooded yards and basements.

Margo Duesterhaus, who lives on Montclair Drive, near Chung-Hood, said the problem was probably compounded by a recent re-paving of the neighborhood roads. Now, she said, the curb in front of her house is nonexistent, and the road crews failed to grate the roads before re-paving. As a result, Duesterhaus said, her home experienced flooding for the first time with Tropical Storm Lee.

Chung-Hood, however, received the worst of it, the flooding exacerbated by her next-door neighbor's sump pump that discharges water into her backyard. There's nowhere else for the water to go, said Chung-Hood's neighbor, Naomi Liang, who said a few years ago the county issued her a citation because she had the sump pump draining in front of her house, near the road.

The result is a "double-whammy" for her property, Chung-Hood said, and though this is the worst it has ever been, it's certainly not the first time it has happened — for her, or her neighbors.

"All of our yards are being affected and soaked," said Robert Emanuel, another of Chung-Hood's neighbors. "This has been going on for some time, the county's been made aware …the water's never been engineered properly."

Without a drainage system in place, Emanuel said the land is "overwhelmed any time there's a heavy storm."

Chung-Hood had a dry bed put into her backyard after the storm and extended a small wall to direct run-off along the back of her land, but the mud is still so thick that shoes sink into the ground. When neighbors gathered last week to talk about the issue in Chung-Hood's backyard, Mark Winogrodzki, who's been helping her rebuild, had words of caution for those venturing into the backyard.

"Get your Wellies on," he said. "It's insane back there."

Chung-Hood said she hopes the county can come up with a solution for effective storm-water management in her neighborhood.

Marshall Davidson, a project manager with the Howard County Department of Public Works, who visited Chung-Hood's home Oct. 20, couldn't make Chung-Hood and her neighbors any promises but said he would be making return trips to the area to gather data to fully assess the situation.

In the meantime, Chung-Hood is trying to reopen her studio and is determined to move forward, taking solace in the power of nature's elements despite the destruction they have caused her.

"Water is one of the elements that pushes you," she said. "It pushes and moves you, and it's supposed to be the element of purification. When I get emotionally drained, I think about the words, of movement. It's pushing me to make a change. That helps to keep going.

"In some ways, I take it as a sign from nature that I should move on, to reconstruct and rebuild, and move my life forward. I can't drown in it all."