Business owners, residents mopping up after rains flood North Baltimore

B.G. Purcell, owner of caramel maker Mouth Party, would like to stay where she is, in the Clipper Mill center of business and art studios.

"It's a great space," she said.


It didn't look so great on Thursday, however. Mouth Party, which recently celebrated its first anniversary on Clipper Mill Road in Woodberry, was a flooded disaster zone of wet boxes and ruined equipment.

"Unfortunately, I think it's totaled," said Purcell, as she hugged well-wishers and commiserated with fellow Clipper Mill business owners, including Julie Sawyer, who works in media sales at Press Box, a sports publication. Its offices too were flooded..


"We have a lot of signed sports books," Sawyer said mournfully. "We're throwing it all out into the center."

Clipper Mill wasn't the only area affected by unusually heavy, long-lasting rain.

The shopping center Mount Washington Mill, at the low-lying, flood-prone intersection of Falls Road, Smith Avenue and the Kelly Avenue bridge, was flooded so badly that anchor Whole Foods blocked its entrance with a sign that said, "Temporarily closed," and center owner Sam Himmelrich said it was the worst flooding he had seen in more than 25 years of ownership.

"We're trying to help the tenants get back on their feet," Himmelrich said, adding that anchor Whole Foods was expected to re-open later Thursday. "We're doing the best we can."


Rain was also believed to have exacerbated longtime structural issues with a retaining wall on 26th Street, causing it to collapse Wednesday and sending cars, sidewalks and street lights onto the CSX tracks below.

Nineteen homes were evacuated, including Erica McCullough's house in the unit block of East 26th.

"It was scary," said McCullough, who owns a home-based cleaning company, Living Legacy. "I have two small children."

Daughter Camille, almost 2, went upstairs to take a nap, looked out the window and said, "Whoooo."

Camille's brother, Carter, 8, looked out and said, "Oh my God, the cars are sinking."

Carter grabbed the phone and called 311. His mother took the phone from him and spoke to the operator. Within minutes, McCullough was running out of the house, knocking on her neighbors' doors.

McCullough, a 13-year resident, said area residents have been urging city officials for years to fix infrastructure problems that had caused the sidewalk and roadway to crack and crumble.

The Sun reported that since at least the 1990s. residents have expressed concerns about the integrity of the wall, noting that sidewalks along 26th Street were sinking, and that in 1994, CSX and city officials debated who was responsible for repairing a cave-in at 26th Street and Guilford Avenue.

"Each day you would come out and see that the fissures in the street were a little larger," she said.

And she said traffic on 26th, a cut-through for many people, has increased noticeably in recent years.

Only one side of the street, with no houses or businesses on it, was affected, and there were no injuries reported, but McCullough, 38, said she still worried about the houses on her side of the street, because she said clay and sand under the street had been separating from the road surface.

McCullough said Thursday that she still was not allowed back in her house, but that a lot of family members and clients had offered to put her and the children up.

First look

Matthew Bradby, program manager for the Charles Village Community Benefits District, a special taxing district, got one of the first close-up looks as the landslide started.

Bradby said he was working in his office two blocks away Wednesday at 3 p.m., when Howard Williams, a sanitation employee of the special taxing district, told him about the massive cave-in and showed him cellphone camera video footage.

"You can see it as it's sinking. We got it (on video). It went straight down," Bradby said.

Bradby said he quickly called 911, and that he and three other employees rushed to the scene, where they banged on residents' doors, told employees of area businesses to leave, and told officials at nearby Margaret Brent Elementary School to keep students indoors, for fear that they would be inquisitive and run over to see the damage.

"I ordered my guys to block off (26th) Street with (a benefits district) truck," Bradby said. He said people he told to move were quick to obey, because, "They know me around there. If I tell them to move, they pretty much listen."

Bradby said he also called CSX, which owns railroad tracks that were damaged in the cave-in, and told CSX officials to stop any trains that might be on the way.

"Everybody had a job to do and everybody did it," said Bradby.

The Govans resident was proud of their quick action.

Bradby said in retrospect the sidewalk on 26th Street was an accident waiting to happen. It had been crumbling for some time and Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents the area, "had been trying to get that resolved," Bradby said.

"I guess the rain finished it," Bradby said.

For Bradby, who has worked for the benefits district for more than five years, the experience was unique. He said he's seen a lot of strange things on his job, even dead bodies in alleys, but "not a sinkhole."

At late afternoon Wednesday, he was on his way home, "to change my clothes," before coming back to work for a night meeting, he said.

"I'm totally soaked."

Bradby said Williams' video of the cave-in is available on Facebook at Bishop Matthew E. Bradby II.

Worst flooding in years

Jeffrey Gould, a public insurance adjuster for American Claims Management Services, does work at Mount Washington Mill and Clipper Mill. He was at both complexes May 1 and said of the flooding at the Mount Washington center, "It's the worst I've seen since I've been doing the work here."

"I'm in shock," said Joshua Brownstein, owner of the havoc-wreaked store Joshua Tree Eco-Friendly Clothing and Accessories in Mount Washington Mill. He said it was the first time the store had flooded in its two years of existence. Workers Thursday were throwing bedraggled rugs and soaked furniture into the parking lot and sweeping water outside.

The water could be heard lapping inside.

"It just had a cleansing," Brownstein said, finding humor in the situation. Despite losing an estimated $35,000 worth of merchandise, he said, "I'm going to stay put. This is a fantastic place to be."

At Clipper Mill, the Nepenthe Homebrew store took a big hit. Michael Heitt, co-founder of the home brew club Brewtherville Labs in Lutherville and "loyal customer" of Nepenthe, said he was helping organize a Big Cleanup Day on Saturday, May 3, which was supposed to be "Big Brew Day."

Heitt forwarded an email from Nepenthe owner Brian Arnold that said there was 5 feet of water in the store on the night of April 30 and that Big Brew Day would be "mostly likely canceled."

Arnold said in the email that the front doors had bowed outward, "as though an angry god had smote them, and we watched in horror as our trash can and several kegs washed away right in front of us."


Heitt said Arnold lost a lot of inventory, including 50-pound bags of perishable grain. He also said Arnold had spent a lot of time and energy starting a service in which customers could brew their own beer on the premises using Nepenthe's equipment.


"It took him forever to set up. It's such a pity," Heitt said.

Ann Gearhart, who works for the Clipper Mill-based Snyder Foundation for Animals, remembered dozens of cars at Clipper Mill being washed away in a 2004 storm.

"But this one is worse because of the water that got in," Gearhart said.

"It is what it is," said Sawyer of Press Box. "That's what you get for being here."

The Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.

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