Floods inflict limited damage to Laurel

Laurel residents are joining those throughout the area who are still drying out and assessing damages from last week's torrential rains that led to flooding statewide, and up and down the East Coast.

On Sept. 8, 8 inches of rain fell in parts of Prince George's County over a 10-hour period, leading county officials to close down Upper Marlboro, where fire and rescue crews took to inflatable canoes to knock on doors to advise, and in some cases require, residents to evacuate.

The unprecedented rainfall left the county Administration Building in Upper Marlboro flooded with more than 2 feet of water. The building was closed from Sept. 8 until Tuesday, Sept. 13. When it reopened, its lower level entrance remained closed, and because of water damage and continuing cleanup efforts, Tuesday's County Council meeting and other meetings scheduled for the council's chambers were moved to the Parks and Recreation Auditorium, in Riverdale.

Other county offices in Upper Marlboro that were closed for several days because of flooding included the Sheriff's Department and the county courthouse.

In Laurel, no major residential flood damages were reported, but roads were closed in several areas that, at times, included portions of Van Dusen Road, Sweitzer Lane and Route 1. Brock Bridge Road and Contee Road at Mayfair Drive were closed the longest, from shortly after the rains started the night of Sept. 5 through the end of last week.

"I don't know of any significant flooding of residences in the area, but the roads in Laurel had a lot of rain dumped on them, causing the road closures," said county Fire/EMS spokesman Mark Brady.

City officials said most of the roads flooded in Laurel were in areas on the city's outskirts where drainage is not the best and where creeks, such as the one near Contee Road and Mayfair Drive, and rivers are located. But the overflowed waterways did not only affect roads and streets. Riverside Park, which runs behind Main Street along the Patuxent River, was closed Sept. 7 because of heavy flooding.

"The park was completely underwater. … There's a lot of mud, dirt and tree limbs that…need to be cleaned up," said City Spokesman James Collins.

Part of the MARC commuter parking lot near the Laurel American Legion post was closed after floodwaters seeped into a few small vehicles parked on the lot.

"Normal-sized vehicles were fine, but a Corvette and a couple of other small vehicles had water in them Wednesday afternoon from the rain that came in and from the runoff from the river," Collins said.

"We put barrels up in the lot when we measured about 6 inches of water," said Public Works Department Director Paul McCullagh. "If the water had gotten higher, the cars would have floated around."

What's par on the water hole?

On Route 197, Patuxent Greens Golf Club's golf course experienced significant flooding to the point that the course resembled a large lake last week, with water levels reaching 11 inches in most places, according to course supervisor John Geyer.

"We had pumps running during the rain, but they were overwhelmed by runoff from the city and Patuxent River, which is behind us," Geyer said. "We're in a nontidal wetlands area and we sit low, so storm drains along Routes 197 and 198 come to our ponds."

Geyer described the flooding at the golf course as the worst he's ever seen.

"I've been here for eight years, and I've never seen the course flooded like this: It was a lake. The ground was saturated from (Hurricane Irene), so the water had no place to go. It was like trying to fill up an already wet sponge," he said.

The high waters also affected the basement of Patuxent Greens' clubhouse, and Geyer said they used three pumps and hoses for several days to clear it up. On Monday, Sept. 12, the course was dry enough for the front nine holes to be reopened to golfers, with the rest of the course expected to be open by Sept. 15.

"We've mowed the greens, and the tees and bunkers were vacuumed out. We will lose a lot of the turf because grass needs air just like we do, and the course was so saturated with water," Geyer said. "This thing has had us working around the clock."

Collins said the flooding at the golf course did not pose a threat to nearby homeowners and that the city-owned swimming pool on Greenview Drive, adjacent to the course, was not affected.

Planning paid off

On the other side of town, on Fifth Street at the Police Department, Collins said poor drainage from a nearby apartment complex resulted in 2 inches of flooding at the station, which took them a couple of hours to vacuum and clean up.

But overall, city officials said Laurel fared pretty well, considering damages in other nearby areas of the county.

John Neustadt, director of communications for Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, said that with the water level at Rocky Gorge Reservoir at about 82 percent, the utility never considered opening the gates at Howard T. Duckett Dam.

"With the drought we've had this summer, the reservoir's water level is so far down that even with all of the rain, it is still 7 feet below its normal level," Collins said. "We were fortunate this time."

McCullagh added that planning by the city in anticipation of the heavy rainfall helped keep flooding to a minimum in most Laurel neighborhoods.

"We cleaned out conduits in advance where water flows under roads, especially where Bear Branch (Creek) goes past the Volunteer Rescue Squad and Route 197," McCullagh said. "If the drains are not cleared, the water backs up, but we had the storm drains cleared of leaves and debris. Because of our advance work, we did well."

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