Scott O'Toole and Kelly Zimmerman first heard about the flash flood in historic Ellicott City on Wednesday, Sept. 7 from a friend. The creek behind their basement-level apartment off Main Street, the friend told them, was a raging torrent of water, rushing over its banks toward their sliding glass doors.
They were on vacation, almost to their destination in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but they turned around immediately, and Zimmerman frantically called another friend to get hercats out of the apartment.
By the time they got home at about 6 p.m., everything was destroyed. The water and the heavy debris it carried had smashed through their doors and flooded the entire apartment, back through the entrance room and the kitchen and living space, back through a small hallway and into a far room the couple used to practice with their band, Dirty Secrets.
At the flood's height, the far back room had about six feet of water in it, a devastating reality indicated by a smudgy water mark on the wall.
The cats had been rescued. Nothing else could be.
The next afternoon, the couple and some of their friends were assessing the damage. Mud covered the floors. Glass from the smashed doors lay everywhere. Mud and debris from the creek stood in clumped piles against the walls, in tiny pockets of space under, on top of and inside furniture.
The yard was strewn with debris and the couple's belongings. A six-foot wooden fence was smashed flat.
Their band equipment — six guitars, a drum set, a bass amplifier, two computers and "a whole bunch of mics," O'Toole said — were all destroyed.
Zimmerman held back tears.
"I loved this place," she said. "We have a fantastic yard – used to."
"It's all pretty overwhelming. All of our (stuff) is out here in the yard," O'Toole said.
"This whole place is going to have to be gutted," said Gilbert Bishop, the couple's landlord and owner of the building, who was helping with the clean up.
Worst flooding in recent memory
One day after the last swirls of Tropical Storm Lee brought heavy and lasting rain to the already saturated area, causing a flash flood that covered Main Street and inundated many shops, people throughout the historic town were taking stock of the damage.
A retaining wall on Mulligans Hill Lane smashed six vehicles after collapsing. Shop owners up and down Main Street reported three, four, five feet of standing water being pumped out of their basements. Sand bags piled up at doorways as people swept mud outside, threw soiled carpets on the street and stacked wet pieces of wood on the curb.
"When you describe things that happen in this town, people say you've got to be exaggerating," said Ed Williams, owner of the Mumbles and Squeaks Toy Shoppe on Main Street for almost two decades. "But after 19 years, you have an institutional memory."
Williams, who built the town's marker for historic floods years ago when he was executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum, said this flooding was worse than he has ever seen.
Len Berkowitz and Sherry Fackler-Berkowitz, who have owned Great Panes Art Glass Studio down the street for 32 years, said the same.
Their store sits on I-beams on both sides and over top of the small tributary known as the Tiber River, which cuts through the town. But as the town flooded Wednesday, the Tiber was anything but small, reaching all the way up to the street level and bringing with it logs and large items of trash and debris.
"We saw a refrigerator go down, a baby's crib, a deck," Williams said.