Sinkhole in Frederick

A state highway worker examines the site of a sinkhole that formed near the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 in Frederick near South Street. Crews were busy yesterday filling it, as traffic was diverted off the interstate and trains stopped. (Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor / September 23, 2003)

They might have escaped the fury of Tropical Storm Isabel, but communities from Western Maryland to Carroll County were hit hard by torrential rains that struck overnight Monday.

The latest storm flooded roads and bridges, destroyed crops and opened a gigantic sinkhole that devoured a swath of land along Interstate 70 in Frederick.

Rain swelled the Patapsco River yesterday morning, causing its muddy waters to overflow and flood River Road in Baltimore County. In the county's northeast section, the Ensor Road bridge had to be closed after water eroded the earth around its footings. And in Harford County, flooding closed part of Route 7 and several streets in Havre de Grace.

The National Weather Service recorded 2.38 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport with the passage of the cold front overnight Monday. That was more than the 2.21 inches recorded Sept. 18-19 at BWI during Isabel.

But one of the most-soaked cities yesterday was Frederick, where 4.5 inches of rain fell. A new $65 million Carroll Creek flood-management system designed to protect the city's downtown business district was successful in diverting waters away from businesses and homes into grassy Baker Park.

Just too much rain

But Isabel and the rainstorms drenched the area beyond what it could handle.

Yesterday the water so weakened a grassy area along eastbound I-70 at South Street that it created a 100-foot-long sinkhole 50 feet wide and 40 feet deep. The sinkhole, which had a large uprooted elm tree lying in its middle, forced the closure of eastbound I-70 for more than three hours, as highway officials assessed the problem.

Robert L. Fisher, state highway administration district engineer for Frederick, Carroll and Howard counties, said it could take up to two days to repair the hole. But he said the highway administration did not believe the hole posed a threat to I-70 or South Street.

"All of the rains that we've had contributed to the sinkhole," Fisher said. "South Street's secure, Interstate 70 is secure."

Trains stopped, in case

The highway administration did keep South Street closed around the sinkhole to help state highway workers. Throughout the day, workers filled the hole with dirt and rocks to stabilize the area.

The yawning sinkhole also led to the cancellation - yesterday through at least tomorrow - of Maryland Rail Commuter service between Washington, D.C., and Frederick.

MARC's Brunswick Line track passes within 100 feet of the hole, Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Richard Scher said.

Engineers will evaluate whether the sinkhole could threaten the track. "This is precautionary," Scher said. "There was no damage done to the tracks that we're aware of."

The shutdown affects six trains that usually carry a total of 100 commuters a day to and from Frederick, Scher said. MTA plans to shuttle the Frederick commuters by bus to the Monocacy train station in the morning and back again at night until Frederick service resumes, he said.

The storm also knocked out power at Frederick City Hall for several hours and caused basement flooding in that building and some homes. But that flooding was an isolated problem, not related to Carroll Creek downtown, officials said.

The system worked

Nancy Poss, a spokeswoman for Frederick Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty, said the city's flood-management system successfully handled the water filling the creek.