As Katarina Lincalis and Daniel Durantaye surveyed the flood damage to their Main Street row house in Ellicott City on Memorial Day, they realized with a start that theirs was the only one on the block that still had its front steps.
Last week’s flood had washed away the foundation under the homes in much of the 8400 block of the street, up the hill from Ellicott Mills Drive. Peering into a gaping crater in front, the couple could see under their next-door neighbor’s porch, straight through the basement to the backyard.
“How do you repair a house that’s missing the foundation?” Lincalis wondered.
The storm displaced an estimated 15 people from the apartments in the block, said Kevin Breeden, the owner and landlord. Howard County has provided hotel rooms to 59 displaced residents, county spokesman Paul Milton said. An undetermined number of others, including Lincalis and Durantaye, are staying with local friends or family members.
All face the same question that has loomed over recovery efforts from the second flood to devastate the historic Howard County mill town in two years: stay or leave?
“That’s a really personal decision,” said Lincalis, 26, a second-grade teacher at Lansdowne Elementary. “I don’t think this time around there’s going to be one right decision.”
The row houses haven’t been condemned, but they’re all on the county’s “no-access list,” Breeden said. He’s having an architect study them to recommend whether the block of houses can be repaired.
“I don’t know if it actually is unstable,” he said. “It’s not in a condition where it would be appropriate to have people in there.”
If they can’t be repaired, Breeden plans to demolish and rebuild them.
Lincalis said she and Durantaye are looking for somewhere else to live — on higher ground.
“It’s a little too fresh for me to say I’d consider anything in Ellicott City,” she said. “If there’s even a chance the next house we live in could get flooded, I wouldn’t consider it.”
She felt conflicted about returning to work, and some sense of normalcy, on Wednesday, when so many neighbors wouldn’t have that luxury for weeks or months.
“I felt a lot of guilt about being able to go to work and have a safe place where I knew I was going to get a paycheck at the end of the week, and take my mind off things for a while,” Lincalis said. “There were so many people who lost their home and their business.”
Breeden, 59, who grew up in Ellicott City, spent about $100,000 in cleaning and repairs to the properties following the 2016 flood. He called this year’s repeat “quite a punch to the gut.”
The previous floods had ruined basements, he said, but hadn’t caused structural damage to the properties. Residents were able to stay.
“I flood-proofed as much as I could, within reason, and a lot of that held up,” he said. “I did not expect the foundation damage to the front. That didn’t happen the last time.”
Lincalis said she was upset by a quote by Howard County Councilman Greg Fox, appearing to downplay the impact of the storm in a Sunday Baltimore Sun article: “Last time it blew through things. This time it didn’t.”
“I just can’t believe someone would dare to say that in print,” she said.
Fox said he had been referring to flood infrastructure, and his words were taken out of context.
“While some of this stuff may come back quicker, the dollar damage to property owners, residents and business owners is still going to be significant,” he said.
The county will host a bi-partisan fundraiser at Merriweather Post Pavilion from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, featuring local acts Misspent Youth and the Doug Segree Band, Fox said. It will be free to credentialed Ellicott City property owners, residents and business owners.
Breeden said he was impressed with the county’s response to the 2016 flood, and officials didn’t deserve the criticism they had received following the second storm.
“I know people have given the county a hard time,” he said. “I think they did the best they could with the time they had.”