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Baltimore City

Business owners, residents survey flood damage in Baltimore's Woodberry neighborhood

Allan Leiva's silver sports car lay wedged beneath a Mazda3 and a Toyota Highlander, stacked like toys in the Meadow Mills parking lot.

Leiva, who works at Stone Mill Bakery, was moving the business's vans to higher ground when the rain- swollen Jones Falls jumped its banks Saturday night and roared into the parking lot, sweeping up his Toyota Celica and other vehicles.

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"I can't believe it," said Leiva, who joined dozens of workers, business owners and residents surveying the flood's aftermath Sunday in Baltimore's Woodberry neighborhood. "I bought this car one month ago."

As rain pounded the region, firefighters blocked the area around Clipper Mill Road and Union Avenue shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday. Crews found as much as 12 feet of water in the Meadow Mills parking lot and vehicles floating down the Jones Falls, which regularly runs in a channel there underneath Interstate 83.

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Sam Johnson, a spokesman for the city Fire Department, said crews rescued a person who was trapped on the roof of a vehicle outside La Cuchara restaurant in the parking lot and helped three other people out of standing water.

The Fire Department responded to about 20 flooding-related incidents Saturday night, including stranded motorists on I-83, Johnson said. No one was injured, he said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates from city agencies, her spokesman said Sunday.

"Crews are on the scene and providing updates on the situation and assessments on next steps," spokesman Anthony McCarthy said.

On Sunday, Brian Arnold and Jill Antos inspected the damage inside their business, Nepenthe Homebrew, in the converted mill. Storage crates and shelving were toppled over in heaps of boxes, kettles, bottles and equipment.

The store, which sells beer-making equipment and ingredients and allows customers to make it on site, flooded about two years ago, causing $100,000 in damage. The Towson couple said the damage looks worse this time, estimating the loss to be $125,000.

"It's very tough for small businesses to survive in general, and then you put on top of it a natural disaster — twice," Antos said. "It's not easy for sure."

Arnold said they were drawn to the site's high ceilings, charm and affordability. But after enduring two floods in 31/2 years of business, he was uncertain whether they could reopen in the neighborhood.

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"From a business perspective, that's a complicated answer," said Arnold, a former English teacher in the city's public schools.

He drove to see the damage late Saturday, and his wife said she tried to make it through the night without a "panic attack."

"Mostly what we were thinking was, 'Not again,'" Arnold said.

The couple raised $15,000 from the community after flooding in 2014 to help cover the difference between their damage and the insurance payout, according to a GoFundMe web page. The flooding occurred during the same storm that caused the collapse of 26th Street in Charles Village.

Leiva, a Hampden resident, was worried his insurance plan wouldn't cover the loss of his used car. He bought the Celica for $2,000 and still owes $1,900.

He hopes the flooding prompts officials to take make improvements to the area, such as dredging the Jones Falls and clearing debris from the banks.

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"This has to be fixed; this is wrong," he said.

D.J. Thomas, a graphics designer who lives Hampden, walked down to the mill and snapped photos of the damaged vehicles.

"It's amazing how fast it moves," he said of the water. "In this situation, if you don't get your car out, it's going to be done. These cars are ruined. The cars on top of each other, that's insane."

About a half-mile south on Clipper Road, Birroteca operating partner Robbin Haas said the restaurant was open in time for lunch Sunday. He said the addition of waterproof doors after the 2014 floods along the Jones Falls prevented any flooding inside the dining rooms or kitchen.

"We were extremely fortunate," Haas said. "Some of our neighbors got hit really hard."

The crowded restaurant was evacuated as waters rose late Saturday, he said. With the help of fire and police, Haas said, the customers and employees were safe, although some of their cars were damaged.

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"Nobody got hurt; that's the most important part," Haas said.

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The Jones Falls regularly surges onto roads and parking lots after rainstorms, and rushing water has caused significant damage several times in recent years.

Meadow Mills businesses, such as Nepenthe and other ground-level retailers, were closed or relocated for months after the 2014 flooding.

The number of flash floods in Baltimore is expected to become more frequent. The city has revised standards for permitting new construction, requiring electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems to be built a foot higher than previously mandated. Officials encourage existing businesses to retrofit their properties with flood doors and reinforced walls.

Sam Himmelrich Jr. of Himmelrich Associates, the owner of Meadow Mills, told Baltimore Sun Media Group last year that work was being done at the old mill to make it more resistant to flooding. Steps include building 5-foot-tall cinder block walls with gates at entrances at several businesses.

"We are working extremely hard to avoid future events and get our tenants back up and running," Himmelrich said Sunday.

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ywenger@baltsun.com

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