Inside what was once a shop for homemade soaps and oils, a woman scraped mud off the floor with a shovel while another hauled buckets of mud and dirt to the curb.
Across the street, outside a tea shop, another volunteer rinsed his muddy boot in a storm drain.
“Basically we spent the whole day shoveling what seems to be endless pounds of mud,” said Richard Remigio, who had a smudge of it on his face.
Business owners and volunteers began the “muck out work” in earnest on Sunday, following a deadly flood that county officials said was even more destructive than one in 2016. The rain continued to fall Sunday afternoon, forcing an early end to the cleanup, in what felt like a sucker punch of fate.
“The weather today has not been the most cooperative,” said Howard County spokesman Mark Miller.
After the mud, repairs will take time. At the essential oils shop, the force of the water had twisted the staircase out of shape and left it looking like a funhouse. The entire upstairs had been deemed unsafe by government inspectors.
Replacing the infrastructure on Main Street alone will likely cost around $10 million, said Miller. That number doesn’t include the loss to local businesses and homeowners. Miller said 58 people have requested temporary housing through the county.
County workers have attempted to preserve some historic artifacts from the area, said Miller, including the slate stone steps that had been outside many buildings and some historic millstones. But the damage done to the historic mill town was worse than in 2016, he said. An 1840s courthouse had been swept away in the floodwaters. The area where it once stood was a dirty cavern.
The historic courthouse is “something we won’t get back,” said John Marshall, who works with the Department of Recreation and Parks.
Destruction was worse toward the bottom of the sloping hill of Main Street, where a few shops were boarded up with plywood. With the sidewalk in crumbles, wooden planks lead to front doorsteps. Outside an Italian restaurant, the gag-inducing stench of rancid food filled the air while volunteers ferried heavy kitchen equipment to the curb.
Volunteer Chip Spencer, 41, took a break from shoveling mud to have a cigarette. His house, just a few doors up the street, had been destroyed in the 2016 flood. The construction had finished last week and then the second “thousand-year-flood” hit his hometown in two years.
Spencer said he wouldn’t be rebuilding on Main Street.
“It’s too dangerous,” he said.
Miller acknowledged that more people are likely to leave Main Street for good after the 2018 flood, and encouraged people to make the decision that was best for them.
But, in the midst of crisis, the people helping out on Sunday embodied the community spirit that makes Ellicott City special, said Miller.
“There is a certain vibe in Ellicott City that you just cannot replicate by picking up your business and moving someplace else.”
Some of the volunteers were business owners whose shops were fine, but they came out anyway to help their neighbors. Others, like Shelley Sharkey, found their shops too badly destroyed to even enter — but came by just the same.
Before the flood, Sharkey’s women-only gym, called “Miss FIT,” had stood inside the former Caplan’s Department Store Building. It was a popular spot, hosting classes from barre to Pilates. But the storm had destroyed everything inside. A mess of rebar and tree branches stood where the front entrance had been.
Before the flood, “it was gorgeous,” said Sharkey, beginning to cry.