Hurricane Isabel struck Baltimore 15 years ago — and people were canoeing through the streets

Late at night on Sept. 18, 2003, water was creeping over the Inner Harbor's sea wall.

The morning after Hurricane Isabel hit, the Inner Harbor looked more like Venice, with Pratt and Light streets closed to vehicular traffic because of record flooding.

Residents in Fells Point and Inner Harbor canoed through city streets and waded to work in shorts. Downtown Annapolis and eastern Baltimore County, among other areas, also were left under several feet of water.

“The water is a beautiful thing, an asset. But sometimes, it turns on you,” Baltimore’s then-mayor, Martin O'Malley, told The Sun.

At the Power Plant on Pier Four south of Pratt Street, waves swept into the ESPN Zone bar. The Capitol City Brewing Company in Harborplace's Light Street pavilion offered beer for a penny a glass.

The owners of Captain James Crab House in Canton couldn't get the front door of their restaurant open because so much water had seeped inside. Co-owner Vasilious Tserkis was soaked to the chest, having waded into the water to retrieve patio furniture and an ice chest.

"There's probably crabs floating around inside,” Tserkis said.

In Fells Point, scene of the worst city flooding, the atmosphere was strangely upbeat as people marveled at the site of chest-high waters in city streets.

However, Tom Murphy was grim. He had been made homeless by the flood, which left 3 feet of water inside his apartment on Aliceanna Street. His refrigerator was floating, his stereo under water and his family photographs soggy.

"Wiped me out," he said. "Everything is ruined."

Overhearing his story, a neighbor offered him a place to stay.

More than 1.27 million households lost power in the state — the worst outage Maryland had ever seen, according to officials from the state's two major utilities.

Heavy industry along the waterfront slowed to a crawl as water flowed across piers, flooded access roads and made it difficult for employees to reach work. The General Motors assembly plant on Broening Highway was shuttered for the day.

The damage was particularly striking considering that many officials and forecasters said Isabel had spared Maryland its worst as it passed to the north and west.

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