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Waiting is over for Maryland river towns, as Susquehanna waters recede

As the flood waters from the Susquehanna River started to recede Saturday, Havre de Grace and Perryville were recovering, while Port Deposit officials were still evaluating flood damage and had not allowed residents to return to the town as of midday

The river actually reached its crest, peak stage level — 32.41 feet, at Conowingo Dam Friday at 9:15 a.m., according to flow gauge data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The peak water flow through the massive structure, which reached 778,000 cubic feet per second, was less than what dam officials and emergency officials on both sides of the river had initially expected as the Susquehanna carried off the torrents of rain from the remnants ofTropical Storm Lee.

Still, based upon historical data, the river at Conowingo Friday rose to the third highest level in the 83-year-old dam's history.

Still, the river rose to almost nine feet above what is classified as "flood stage" and almost four feet above "major flood stage" which is 28.5 feet

Even though the worst case scenario seemed to have been avoided, parts of Harford and Cecil County were clearly suffering from the effects of the flood waters Saturday.

Wayne Tome, Port Deposit's mayor, was overwhelmed with dealing with the crisis and unavailable for comment Saturday, a town spokesperson said.

Kathy Gray, who works for the town, said a meeting between the mayor, emergency services the police department and other interested parties was scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. to determine what the next step would be for the riverside town.

"We're not letting anyone in yet," Gray said.

The town underwent mandatory evacuation Thursday, but Gray explained there are still hazardous conditions and debris that prevent residents from returning.

"Right now we're down to 30 gates [floodgates open at Conowingo Dam], so the water's starting to recede, but it hasn't receded all the way yet," Gray said.

Havre de Grace dries out

In Havre de Grace, on the Harford County shore of the river, city spokesman John Van Gilder characterized the flooding there as a typical river event.

"We're doing very, very well," he said Saturday.

Police and other emergency workers went door-to-door Thursday evening asking residents in the low lying areas of the city to leave, a "mandatory" evacuation in the words of Harford County government, but one which turned out to be more voluntary.

Late Thursday and early Friday, Baltimore Gas and Electric shut off gas and electric to certain residences and at-risk businesses for safety reasons. BFE crews were out Saturday restoring service where they could.

"BGE has been out there working tirelessly getting everybody up and running," Van Gilder said.

Van Gilder also said the flooding could have been much worse and that the city fared well, considering the amount of water that came down the river.

"We really had no damage to the infrastructure, no injuries," he said.

Harford County Emergency Manager Rick Ayers said only one street in the city was closed because of high water as of noon Saturday. Concord Street remained closed between Lafayette and Alliance Streets and between Girard and Revolution Streets.

Patients who had been removed from nursing care and senior citizen apartments in Havre de Grace were in the process of being returned to the city, Ayers said.

"They're already back in The Graw," Ayers said. The Graw is a high-rise senior citizen apartment building along the waterfront. Some 160 nursing home patients at Citizens Care Center were evacuated Thursday to other nursing home facilities in the region.

Public works crews were clearing the parks that had been closed due to flooding and the city was working to get back to normal.

Isabel 'definitely worse'

For many who visited the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Park in Havre de Grace Saturday morning, the flooding in the parking lot wasn't as bad as they expected.

Debbie Myers, a Belcamp resident who works in Havre de Grace, came out to assess the situation, accompanied by Westminster resident Ron Grove.

The damage from Tropical Storm Isabel, she said, was "definitely worse." The tidal surge from Isabel, in 2003, destroyed most of the Promenade, the city's riverfront boardwalk.

"This is mild compared to the way it flooded in town [then]," Myers said of this week's flooding.

The city government seemed more prepared this time around too, she added. Grove agreed, saying it could have been worse.

"I just think we're fortunate that it wasn't as bad as they anticipated," he said.

Belcamp residents Brian and Kathryn Rosen said had come up to see the flooded parts of Havre de Grace.

They plan to buy a home in city shortly, Brian Rosen said, and don't want to buy in the flood zone.

For this couple, seeing the high tide in the Tydings parking lot was a new experience.

"It's crazy," Kathryn Rosen said. "We haven't seen it like this before."

Promenade Grill owner Dana Caro said he didn't sustain that much water damage. The grill is located at the Municipal Yacht Basin in Tydings Park.

In preparation for the flooding, Caro lifted all of the refrigerators on stands waist high and transported all of the food.

"It's not that bad," he said. "I was prepared for it."

After the Health Department inspection on Monday, Caro, who has operated the Grill for seven years, said business will be back to normal starting Tuesday.

"When you own a business or piece of property on the water," he added, "you have to be prepared for this stuff. It's not a mystery."

Boat owner Herbert Guidice, of Aberdeen, was prepared for the storm and incoming flooding as well.

Although the city closed the park and the yacht basin Thursday afternoon, Guidice spent the night on his boat, a 43-foot San Remo, Thursday night during the storm to be there to let out the rope if the water rose.

"The current was extremely fast [and] debris in the water was thick," he said

While standing on the dock, Guidice said, the water rose about a foot high.

Saturday morning, he worked with another boat owner to clear the dock of the two-to-three inch thick mud that had accumulated from the flooding.

"The sooner that we get the docks [cleaned] off, there will be less chance of people getting hurt," he said.

In another part of town, Ike Kenly waited for the power to be turned back on in his house off Alliance Street.

The water didn't reach his property, which he bought in June, but BGE did cut off his power in preparation.

Even so, Kenly said he still "panicked" and evacuated the house just in case, after lifting everything off the floor.

"I was blessed," he said. "We were blessed."

Across the river from Havre de Grace, the town of Perryville weathered the water relatively unscathed and were facing minor cleanup issues Saturday, its mayor said.

"Just facing the mud," Perryville Mayor Jim Eberhardt said Saturday morning. "That was pretty much it, we made out pretty well actually."

While the town instituted a voluntary evacuation and opened Perryville High School as a shelter, Eberhardt said the site was filled with dislocated Port Deposit residents, rather than people from Perryville.

"No one [from Perryville] came to the evacuation center, if they did evacuate they stayed with friends," Eberhardt said."Everyone there was from Port Deposit."

Eberhardt said the flooding could have been much worse. But three miles in this instance can make a difference, which is the distance between Perryville and its upriver neighbor Port Deposit.

"Fortunately no one got water even on the first floor," Eberhardt said.

A pretty darn big flood

As of 8:30 a.m. Saturday, 30 crest gates were open at Conowingo Dam, and officials with Exelon Power, the dam's owner, said they expected to open no more than 33 gates Saturday.

Four hours later, the Conowingo spill hotline was reporting just 29 gates open and flow of 468,000 cubic feet of water per second through the dam, almost 300,000 cubic feet per second less than Friday morning's peak.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, the USGS gauge at the dam reported the river stage at 27.87 feet, still high enough to well exceed "moderate flood stage" at 24.4 feet. The term "stream stage" also called "gauge height," according to the USGS website, "is the height of the water surface, in feet, above an established altitude where the stage is zero. The zero level is arbitrary, but is often close to the stream bed."

When the river reached it's peak stage Friday morning, 43 to 44 of the dam's 50 available gates were open.

There were fears Thursday that the rising river, swollen from torrential rains as Lee hovered over eastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York, would require the opening of all 50 available gates at the dam.

It never got that bad, however, even though Friday's peak river stage of 32.41 feet was exceeded only by 34.18 feet reached on Jan. 20, 1996, and the all-time high of 36.83 feet reached on June 24, 1972, following Tropical Storm Agnes.

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