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Main Street in Ellicott City reopens after residents were advised to seek higher ground

Less than an hour after urging people to evacuate downtown Ellicott City amid heavy rain, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said waters did not breach stream channel walls Wednesday night and that Main Street had reopened.

Mark Miller, spokesman for Howard County government, said that for the past couple of days the county's emergency management team has been "pretty ramped up" and monitoring with the National Weather Service.

As a heavy band approached the area around 8 p.m., police patrols went into Ellicott City to ask people to move to higher ground, though he said it was not an official evacuation.

Randy Marriner, owner of the Manor Hill Tavern, said officers “were going through the street with bullhorns saying to take high ground.” The staff of his restaurant announced last call at 8 p.m. “When the police are telling us to take a hike, we take a hike.”

Ultimately, said Miller, the Tiber tributary "never breached its bank" and then receded "substantially."

“The rivers are high but the rain has slowed down,” said shop owner David Reyes of the Reyes Jewelry Exchange. “My store is OK.”

Reyes said he didn’t bother to put down sandbags to protect the store because, he said, they would be useless to protect against a deluge.

“False alarm,” said Rick Winter, owner of Ellicott Mills Brewing Company.

Miller said the NWS has indicated the area might get more rain as the hours wore on, but he said, "we expect there's plenty of capacity in the channel to handle the rain that's forecast later this evening and overnight."

Waters were rising fast as rain fell, and approached the tops of channels that carry the Tiber and Hudson branches downhill, beneath Main Street and to the Patapsco River, said Dan Hofmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. But they began to recede before any serious flooding occurred.

About 2 inches of rain fell in the Ellicott City area Wednesday, he said, about half as much as reported in parts of Carroll County and the Washington, D.C., area.

The National Weather Service had received a report of up to 1 foot of floodwaters on Main Street, but later said that account was unfounded. The weather service initially said the report came from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, but a spokesman for that office said it did not have anyone in Ellicott City at the time.

"Something must have gotten lost in translation there,” Hofmann said.

Concerns of possible flooding from the Patapsco River also did not come to pass — while water reached a minor flood stage, it did not breach the river banks, Hofmann said.

A flash flood warning was in effect across Baltimore City and Baltimore County until 10:30 p.m., indicating that downpours could quickly produce fast-moving floodwaters. But earlier flash flood warnings for other parts of the region expired.

With historic rainfall recorded in the area in recent days, Ellicott City residents have watched the forecasts with a mixture of trepidation and weariness.

The town, built on the Patapsco and Tiber, has been devastated by flooding twice in three years: a July 2016 flood that left two people dead, closed dozens of businesses and caused millions in damage; and another in May that resulted in one death and had a similar impact on business, property and infrastructure.

On Friday, a state of emergency after the most recent flood was finally lifted, allowing greater access to Main Street for merchants and their customers.

Baltimore Sun reporters Meredith Cohn and Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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