Flood victims left to gather the remnants

Two days after she and her young sons left their eastern Baltimore County house in a boat, Lakeesha King still didn't think it was safe to go back yesterday.

So she kept her family -- 4-year-old Antonio, 10-year-old Marcus, her sister and her grandfather -- at Stemmers Run Middle School, Baltimore County's last remaining shelter for people displaced by Tropical Storm Isabel.

King, 29, was grateful for all the donated food, clothing and cots. Scrabble and a coloring book were keeping her boys content.

But King's anxiety was running high yesterday, as she worried about her grandfather's missed medication and her missed wages -- not to mention what awaits them when they return home to Day Village, a complex of 500 townhouses in Turners Station that was evacuated early Friday morning.

"The place was under so much water," said King, who is a unit assistant at Bayview Hospital.

Two school buses took Day Village residents staying at the shelter back to assess the damage at their homes yesterday morning. What awaited them was this: Dozens of dead cars with their hoods up, as owners fruitlessly tried to air them out. Ruined couches and dining room tables, and mounds of carpet and overflowing trash bags sitting on the curb in need of someone to haul them away. Rows upon rows of shirts, socks, towels, rugs and backpacks drying on clotheslines.

Cold water was back at most Day Village homes, but it had to be boiled, and not everyone's gas was back. The American Red Cross was expecting about 20 people to return to Stemmers Run last night, many of them Day Village residents. More than 200 people stayed at the middle school Thursday night and Friday morning, when the county was operating four shelters.

Ron Hood and Garth Rigsby were two of eight maintenance workers for Day Village surveying the damage, from broken refrigerators to buckling floors. It was unclear what responsibilities the property owner would assume, and what the tenants would have to cover. Hood and Rigsby had visited about 200 homes so far yesterday afternoon, with another 300 to go.

"These are all totally shot," Hood said, pointing to a row of waterfront homes behind him. "That smell inside the house, I don't know how we're going to get rid of that."

As they picked up the pieces of their broken homes yesterday, Day Village residents, still spending their nights elsewhere, were overwhelmed by the prospect of returning to work today. There is just so much to do.

"If I'm not to work tomorrow, I don't have a job," Eugene Weber, 28, a construction worker and Day Village resident, said yesterday morning at Stemmers Run, where he and his girlfriend and four children have been staying.

Jackie Leikam, 38, doesn't know when she'll be able to resume her life as a nurse's aide for Baltimore County. Her blue 1988 Buick is ruined. So is her living room set, her dining room set, her freezer, her big-screen television, her hot-water tank, dozens of videos and all her 11-year-old son's school supplies. She suspects her couch and her son's winter clothes will have to go as well.

And she doesn't have flood insurance. She said she tried to obtain it a few years ago, and an agent said she lived too close to the water. When she learned she had to evacuate Friday morning, she had time only to grab her son's asthma medication.

"They told me if I didn't come now, we would be left," she said. "They gave us five minutes to get out."

Wearing an orange "United We Stand" sweat shirt and faded jeans, Leikam stood outside her ravaged home yesterday scrubbing a white plastic, collapsible picnic table that she will use in the kitchen.

She'll get by somehow, she said. "I'm a survivor."

Leikam's neighbor Betty Gamble, a collections supervisor for Baltimore, had plenty of relatives on hand yesterday to help her scrub the floors with bleach and haul away ruined belongings.

In and around the garbage bags on her curb were food, a bike, a microwave, a vacuum, a grill, a sofa bed, a washing machine and a dryer.

A soggy Bible sat on Gamble's staircase. Family pictures and awards -- including one child's certificate for completed homework throughout December 1994 -- were neatly laid on the kitchen table to dry.

Gamble, 57, was having the most trouble parting with her beloved silver 2000 Suzuki.

"It's never gonna run again, Ma," her son from Philadelphia told her, pointing out the rust under the hood.

"Why?" she retorted.

Earlier in the morning, Gamble and Leikam had discovered a snake -- several feet long -- in the flooded shed they share.

The experience made Gamble even more determined to keep a commitment she made when she and her daughter and three grandchildren had to get on that boat Friday morning.

"I'm going to move," Gamble vowed. "I will never be scared like this again. This is the end for me of ocean life. I mean, can you imagine, getting on a boat?"