Heavy rains that lashed central Maryland on Sunday forced a portion of East Monument Street to be evacuated after a large sinkhole in the road reopened and expanded, according to a city public works spokesman.
Tons of gravel and recycled concrete that city crews had used to backfill the hole began washing away as an estimated 1 to 3 inches of rain fell, forcing emergency crews to once again evacuate the north side of the 2300 block of East Monument Street, said Kurt Kocher, the spokesman.
"We have all this material that's essentially being washed away again because of these storms, so it's a difficult situation," said Kocher, who noted the void now stretches from curb to curb and in front of about six businesses on each side of the street.
"It's a massive hole," he said.
The sinkhole first opened above a 120-year-old drainage culvert after heavy rains last month, causing evacuations and closing the road. The backfilling was part of a broader effort to control the damage and stabilize the area so local businesses could reopen to foot traffic.
Officials now plan to dig a separate shaft into the roadway next to the damaged culvert to provide crews access to the 10-foot-wide brick structure without having to go through the unstable damaged area, Kocher said.
The reopening of East Monument Street, which has been closed between North Patterson Park Avenue and North Montford Avenue since the problem first occurred, would likely be further delayed, Kocher said.
"It's going to set us back, but we're still moving ahead as quickly as we can," he said.
Thunderstorms sent lightning bolts across the sky and dumped large amounts of rain on much of central Maryland on Sunday, prompting warnings of flash flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
Some areas saw more than 5.5 inches of rain, the weather service said.
The weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Baltimore City and Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, warning of damaging winds in excess of 60 mph.
The weather service also warned of flash flooding in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
The Maryland State Fair was closed about 2:30 p.m. because of the severe weather, sending attendees scurrying to their cars under umbrellas.
In Southern Maryland, a "waterspout," a tornado over water, developed near Cobb Island in Charles County about noon, and a short-lived tornado warning was issued about 6:30 p.m. for Dorchester County.
Local emergency responders reported vehicles getting stuck in standing water. Some travelers on the area's highways resorted to turning on their flashing rear lights and traveling well below posted speed limits as rain obscured their views of the roads.
Multiple roads flooded — from Annapolis to north of Baltimore — causing more traffic delays. All lanes of Interstate 695 were closed about 4 p.m. at Exit 12 near Arbutus because of standing water, with vehicles passing on the left-hand shoulder.
Kocher said public works crews would "have to see what the damage is" to East Monument Street when the storms ended.
The culvert is the main artery draining storm water to the Inner Harbor for hundreds of acres, Kocher said.
"All the smaller storm drains in the larger area drain into it," he said.
Last month, after the sinkhole first appeared, Kocher said heavy rains wash debris into the culvert and turn it into "a washing machine or rock tumbler."
A steel plate had been placed at street level over backfilled gravel and concrete above the damaged culvert as a "stop gap" solution while public works officials determined an approach to fixing the hole.
When the rains began Sunday, water rushing up through the culvert's damaged section and heavy rains caused a large amount of the street to crumble into itself, Kocher said.
"You can imagine what that was like in there, with waves of water churning," Kocher said.
Kocher said the city's main focus now is stabilizing the area once more so that area businesses can reopen.
"We want to make sure that we can reopen the sidewalks as soon as possible," he said. "These are people's livelihoods."
The area's severe weather was the result of an area of low pressure in the upper atmosphere moving north from Virginia and meeting humid air in the Baltimore region, said Kevin Witt, a meteorologist with the weather service.
"The humid air is basically just fueling the showers and storms," Witt said.
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