By Frank D. Roylance and Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun
9:22 AM EDT, September 8, 2011
Torrential rainfall brought on by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee flooded dozens of Baltimore-area roads, and sent the water rising out of rivers and creeks — and rescue crews have responded to more than a dozen calls of stranded drivers since midnight Thursday.
And forecasters warn that more rain is on the way.
Forecasters said heavy runoff will continue to spark concern into the weekend, as rivers rise behind the region's dams and threaten downstream communities.
Carroll County schools delayed opening by two hours Thursday, and Charles County schools closed entirely.
Anne Arundel County Fire swiftwater rescue teams had responded to 12 calls of motorists stranded in the water since midnight, fire spokesman Chief Michael Cox said. The drivers managed to extricate themselves in all but four of the cases, he said. In one incident, a 63-year-old man and a 68-year-old woman were taken to Baltimore Washington Medical Center to be treated for minor injuries after their car became disabled at Burns Crossing Road and Old Mill Road in Severn at 1:33 a.m., Cox said.
The pair decided to exit the vehicle and "both were nearly swept away by the moving water," he said. They were rescued by Anne Arundel County police officers who arrived before firefighters, Cox said.
Another man drove a truck around a barricade on Patuxent Road in Odenton and became trapped in six feet of standing water, he said. They also rescued a driver who entered standing water and became trapped in a sink hole, Cox said.
Firefighters also responded to a report of a drowning in Pasadena Wednesday night, Cox said.
A rescue team arrived at the 400 block of Riverside Drive after a resident heard calls for help at about 9:50 p.m., came out of a house and saw a victim struggling in the water. One person attempted to go into the water to help but the victim went under the water, Cox said. Fire rescuers were able to locate the man, estimated at about 45 years old, and began to resuscitate him. The victim was taken to Baltimore Washington Medical Center for treatment, and his condition was not known, Cox said.
Firefighters also assisted a family who needed to evacuate a home in the 600 block of McKnew Road in Odenton after they reported their car was underwater and water in the basement was rising, causing the odor of fuel in the home. The family was taken to a nearby community center for the night, Cox said. They have also received more than 65 requests for basement pumpouts, the spokesman said.
Flash flooding forced the evacuation of several blocks along Main Street in historic Ellicott City Wednesday, left some businesses covered in mud and cut people in Cockeysville off from their homes. It endangered a Carroll County teen and even a half-dozen members of Baltimore County rescue teams — forcing them into the swollen, fast-moving Patapsco, where they had to swim to safety.
"The whole river came up the back wall of the building and out the front door. The whole street was the river," said Spencer L. Padgett, a builder with Arrisbrook Builders, as he helped mop out the first floor of the company's Ellicott City office.
Exelon Corp. was opening the Conowingo Dam's floodgates, a move that could send the waters of the Susquehanna River into Port Deposit. Town officials canceled a Saturday festival that was to feature a concert by George Jones because Marina Park was expected to be flooded.
"We're not expecting this [storm system] to move off the coast until Sunday or Monday," said Carrie Suffern, a NWS meteorologist at the region's Sterling, Va., forecast office.
She urged motorists not to attempt to drive or walk through flooded roadways. "Be aware, you can't tell how deep that water is. It's very surprising how little water it takes to sweep a vehicle off the road, and once that happens you're in big trouble because you could easily be swept underwater."
Across much of the Baltimore region, the storm dumped more rain than Hurricane Irene did, but lighter winds meant that far fewer people lost electrical service. About 66,000 BGE customers lost service for a time; and almost 6,000 were in the dark as of 8 a.m. Thursday.
Flooding closed Baltimore Beltway ramps at Security Boulevard, stalling cars in more than a foot of standing water. The rain swamped roads and intersections elsewhere, diverting buses and forcing motorists to find alternate routes. But the biggest impact was on the region's major rivers.
Near Cockeysville, people who live in the Hunt Valley Station and Hunter's Run developments were cut off from their homes because both routes into the communities were under water. Around 10 p.m., about 65 cars were finally allowed to caravan into their communities. The residents had been waiting by a shopping center at the intersection of York and Ashland roads to see if officials deemed it safe to drive to their neighborhoods off Paper Mill Road, said resident Sharon Kearney.
In the village of Patapsco near Finksburg, quick response by two high school friends and a nearby kayaker likely saved the life of 16-year-old Carrollton youth who was rescued from the swollen Patapsco River on Wednesday afternoon. The boy, named David, and his friends were floating down the river when, at the confluence of the Patapsco and Aspen Run, the current became intense and David was lodged on a pile of flotsam and being pulled under. The two youths pulled the boy out of the water and onto a kayak.
About 3 p.m., four rescue swimmers from the volunteer fire company in Arbutus responded to a call for people trapped in a vehicle near the intersection of Frederick and River roads in Catonsville, said Fire Director Lynn Mullahey of the Baltimore County Fire Department.
The vehicle was not there when the rescue team arrived and the rescuers entered the Patapsco — which had flowed onto the road — in an inflatable boat, Mullahey said. Team members had to bail out of their boat and swim to shore, she said.
A second rescue swim team, two firefighters from a station in Cockeysville, also entered the river at the same spot and had to bail out of their boat and swim for safety. One swimmer made it to shore and the other was stuck on a tree, surrounded by moving water, for about 15 minutes before being assisted by another swimmer, Mullahey said.
It was not clear why the firefighters had to abandon their boats, Mullahey said. One firefighter was taken to the hospital and treated for minor injuries, she said.
Detective Cathy Batton of the Baltimore County Police Department said several water rescues were conducted on the west side of the county earlier in the day.
In Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood, the water just kept churning down the sidewalk next to Celia Morton's home in the 3400 block of Spelman Road, which fire officials closed. She said that's not uncommon for her block.
"It's like a little river" whenever it rains, she said. "You see chairs floating down the road."
She has lived in the brick rowhouse since 1996 and has lost one car to the rising flood waters. But now she knows to park it up the hill when heavy rains threaten.
In Ellicott City, where flooding can be expected with heavy rains, some business owners were caught off guard by the deluge.
At Vintage Girls boutique, owner Libby Kahat said her basement and first-floor storeroom flooded with murky brown water, which she began cleaning up with a borrowed shop vac.
"I've never seen anything like it. We couldn't leave," she said, adding that the road was submerged, halfway up the tires of her SUV.
Despite the mess, she said, "as long as I'm here, I'll stay open."
The low that was once Tropical Storm Lee was centered Wednesday over eastern Kentucky, but counter-clockwise winds around the low were still dragging tropical moisture north from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, Suffern said.
The warm, wet tropical air was running up and over a frontal system stalled to the south of Baltimore. And as it climbed, it cooled, releasing even more moisture in bands of torrential rains.
Rain totals from the slow-moving storm had topped 3 inches in many locations around Central Maryland even before the skies opened on Wednesday — more than most had seen during Hurricane Irene a week before. The average rainfall for all of September at BWI-Marshall Airport is just over 4 inches.
Howard County reported more than two dozen roads closed by the rapid flooding, with the most serious in old Ellicott City and on Route 40.
Homes and businesses in the 8200 and 8500 blocks of Main Street in Ellicott City were evacuated, and an emergency shelter set up in the nearby senior center, according to county spokeswoman Samantha O'Neil. About 10 homes in the Valley Meade community just west of there were evacuated.
Howard County Councilwoman Courtney Watson was caught in traffic with dozens of other vehicles by the sudden flooding of Baltimore National Pike.
"It's unbelievable," she said. "It happened very quickly, and people were trying to drive through it." She waited out the flooding by having lunch in a nearby restaurant, and was able to drive to her office.
The Department of Natural Resources closed the Avalon area of Patapsco Valley State Park in Elkridge due to "significant flooding" along both sides of the river near U.S. Route 1. The public was asked to stay away from the area "until further notice."
Flooding also was reported in the northern and western parts of Baltimore County.
DNR biologist Jim Thompson said Dead Run, a normally tranquil stream near Security Boulevard, went from a foot deep to nearly 10 feet deep in a matter of two hours.
At 4 p.m., the county's emergency managers said 16 roads on the west side were closed due to flooding. Another 63 were "experiencing flooding conditions."
Elsewhere, transportation officials reported road closures on both sides of the city, including Hilton Parkway and Franklintown Road, as well as Erdman Avenue at Pulaski Highway and Harford Road between Gorsuch and Homestead avenues.
MTA spokesman Terry Owens said five bus routes had to be diverted at the peak of the flooding around 2 p.m., but light rail and the Metro subway kept operating.
The potential threat to Port Deposit continued, even as the rain let up.
Exelon officials said Thursday morning they have opened 25 floodgates as runoff surges down the Susquehanna. That could increase to as many as 30 gates by Friday as the river continues to rise, according to company spokesman Bob George. Evacuations would begin at 31 gates.
Exelon said the company could not yet project how many of the dam's 53 gates might have to be opened.
But the water was rising quickly. Between 3:15 and 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the river rose nearly a foot, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
"Exelon is keeping us up to date," said Kathy Gray, Port Deposit's town administrator. "We are still not overly concerned. … We have been through this a number of times, and we know when we have to move to the upper floors."
In Ellicott City, Padgett also took the mess in stride.
He was helping to mop out the company's first floor office, where all but about two square feet remained covered with brown sludge. In the basement, the entire floor was covered in several inches of muddy water.
"We have had an earthquake, a hurricane, and now a flood. I'm just glad it's not a cicada year. Then, we would have the end of the world," he joked.
Despite all the muck, he said he wouldn't want to change locations. "Not at all. We're right next to the brewery," he said, referring to Ellicott Mills Brewing Company.
Sun reporters Mary Gail Hare, Timothy B. Wheeler, Steve Kilar and Candus Thomson, and Patuxent Publishing reporters Phil Grout and Kayla Bawroski contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun