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Laurel officials lift emergency, close shelter as Patuxent River recedes

All roads, parking areas open on Friday

By Melanie Dzwonchyk, mdzwonchyk@tribune.com

9:23 AM EST, February 1, 2013

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With the waters of the Patuxent River beginning to recede after overflowing the banks on Thursday, city officials Thursday night lifted the Municipal Civil Emergency Mayor Craig Moe declared earlier in the day and  closed the city's emergency shelter and Emergency Operations Center.

The EOC closed at 7:30 p.m. and the state of emergency ended at 9 p.m. Thursday.

Commuters were able to park in all areas of the MARC commuter parking lot off Lafayette Avenue on Friday, although the pavement still had some icy spots where water had flooded the lot near the American Legion Post 60 on Thursday.

Moe declared the emergency at 10 a.m Thursday and recommended the evacuation of the area between Main Street and the Patuxent River  due to the threat of flooding after the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission released water from Brighton Dam in Brookeville and the T. Howard Duckett Dam in Laurel following the unexpectedly heavy overnight rainfall (see in the "Related" box on the left).

According to a WSSC spokseperson, the floodgates at the Brighton Dam were opened at 2 a.m., while Duckett Dam's were opened at 4 a.m. Thursday. 

In a statement released by the city around 7 p.m. Thursday, city officials said WSSC had informed them "that the water level has stabilized and though they (WSSC) will continue to release water from the dam over the next few days, it is not so that the water level will crest the banks of the river."

After their evacuation advisory, the city opened an evacuation shelter at the Robert J. DiPietro Community Center, located at 7901 Cypress St. About 20 evacuated residents had sought shelter at the community center by 5 p.m. Thursday, according to city spokesman Pete Piringer, and the shelter closed around 7:30 p.m.

Evacuation advisory confuses some

Some residents found out about the impending flooding when Laurel Police officers knocked on their doors, advising them to evacuate. By early afternoon, the evacuations were advisory, not mandatory, police said.

Even with robocalls from the city and Laurel Police officers going door to door, some residents and Main Street business owners were confused about weather to evacuate and the seriousness of the flooding prediction.

Matthew Coates, who is chairman of the Laurel Board of Trade and owns a photography studio at Fourth and Main streets, said he felt his studio on the second-floor was probably safe.

“The city did recommended we evacuate, in case of emergency,” Coates said.

Jamie Trimble, who lives on Avondale Street, said she didn’t know about the flooding until she returned home around noon and found her street blocked.

She planned to pull some items together in case she decided to evacuate to the Robert J. DiPietro Community Center with her two sons, ages 2 and 5. But, she said, “I’m not going to freak out about it.”

Lakisha Queen, who lives close to Riverfront Park at 31 Avondale St., was also uncertain as to the importance of evacuating her home.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said after moving her car to Main Street at the advice of Laurel Police officers who knocked on her door.

Queen said police also advised her to unplug the washer and dryer in her basement.

According to a WSSC news release, the amount of rainfall was more than double what was expected, leading to elevated water levels in the Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge Resevoirs. 

At its highest, the level of the Patuxent River was 10.5 feet high as it entered the Triadelphia Resevoir, more than four time its normal level.

Body found in rising water near homeless camp

Anne Arundel County Police say the body of a deceased female was retrieved from the rising waters near a homeless camp in Laurel on Thursday.

Police said they received a 911 call regarding a body floating in the water.

Fire department water rescue teams retrieved the body from waters that had risen due to overnight heavy rains, according to the police department account. The victim has not been identified, but is described as an adult African American female.

The victim's cause of death was undetermined, but police said a witness at the scene said they had told the female at approximately 9:30 to 10 a.m. to leave the area because it was unsafe due to rising waters. The witness left the area at that time.

The female was discovered later. The investigation is still continuing in to the matter and identification of the victim.

This story has been updated.

Reporter Luke Lavoie and the Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.