Three days after the second massive flood in less than two years devastated Old Ellicott City, the historic mill town’s businesses will rely again on a mix of insurance, disaster aid, loans and community support if they choose to reopen.
That’s the big if. While some businesses already have launched fundraising efforts, others question whether they’ll be able to raise money as they did two years ago.
As before, many of the businesses likely didn’t have flood insurance, which is required only of property owners in high-risk flood zones such as Main Street in Old Ellicott City, but is an optional addition to commercial insurance for business owners who don’t own their buildings.
Kitty Morgan, who owned the Summer of Love hippie shop, had no flood insurance. She said it wasn’t affordable or worth the cost for a shop with such slim margins.
Sunday’s flash flooding destroyed her shop and nearby apartment.
As of Wednesday, a GoFundMe page set up to help her had $410 in pledges toward a $50,000 goal. She has no idea what it would cost to reopen, but she knows this would not be enough.
“To the people who gave, I love you,” Morgan said. “But no one has enough money to rebuild.”
There is a limit to what the community can be expected to give, Morgan said, especially for the second catastrophic flood. Like other small business owners who invested in rebuilding or opening businesses after the flood of 2016, she said she expected authorities would take steps to prevent another round of devastation. But many of the proposed improvements will take time and money.
County, state and federal officials went to Howard High School Wednesday evening to tell a crowd of about 200 that they would all do what they could to help. And they understood the difficult path that lies ahead for the business owners.
“We know it’s an emotional and physical time and a financial hardship,” Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman said. “We want to do whatever we can. We want you to make the decision that’s best for you.”
In the meantime, he and others said, those without flood insurance might be able to tap donations, disaster assistance or small business loans.
After the 2016 flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid $4.9 million on 27 flood insurance claims from Ellicott City, a spokesman for the agency said. The agency also paid out close to $7 million in disaster aid.
The nonprofit Ellicott City Partnership is raising money to help the uninsured or underinsured. The nonprofit raised $1.85 million after the 2016 flood.
“I know there are lots of businesses who don’t have flood insurance because it is so expensive and they will need help,” said Maureen Sweeney Smith, the group’s executive director.
Sweeney Smith said she doesn’t yet know the extent of all the damage, but said just about every business was hit in some way.
Jerome Scott didn’t get flood insurance for his Cotton Duck Art & Apparel shop after the 2016 flood. After Sunday’s flooding damaged his business again, he decided not to reopen. He doesn’t want to go through the ordeal of rebuilding again. He will sell from his studio and on the internet instead.
“I am definitely not rebuilding,” Scott said. “I’m not going back there. Not at all. Nothing has been done to fix or alleviate the problem, so I don’t have any reason to move back down there.”
He said the county didn’t take the steps needed to prevent the flooding.
“You didn’t protect the people there,” he said. “You basically put them in harm’s way and rolled the dice that there wouldn’t be another flood.”
Linda Jones, the owner of Tea on the Tiber, saw the first floor and basement of her business wiped out. There were 40 people dining in her restaurant when the storm hit. She ushered them all to the top floor, where they waited and watched from the window as the fast-running waters tore through town.
Jones has flood insurance. She thought she learned a lesson after the 2016 storm, when she didn’t have coverage. But she is not convinced it will help her that much. The process of filing a claim is daunting. Each lost item has to be documented with a photo and proof of value. Many of the items in the store washed away or are covered in debris, Jones said.
She doesn’t feel right asking the community for help again.
“How can we ask the public to support us a second time in less than two years?” she asked. “It’s not fair. It not right. It’s unethical. Our integrity is at stake here.”
Besides, she is not even convinced yet that she should rebuild.
“It’s tough this time,” she said. “It’s not, ‘Of course we are coming back.’ ”
FEMA and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency will begin conducting joint damage assessments Thursday, a preliminary step to potentially securing disaster assistance. They’ll be looking at the flood damage in Howard County, Baltimore and Baltimore County.
“Our administration is committed to helping those impacted by the recent devastating floods recover as quickly as possible,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement. “I have directed the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to work closely with regional representatives from FEMA to seek all available assistance to support our public safety partners and our citizens who were affected as they work to rebuild.”
The Maryland Insurance Administration is working to help people in the state deal with insurance claims, state Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. said.
The administration reported that it aided 57 people in the state with flood-related claims in 2016, including 42 in Howard County, resulting in a total of nearly $882,000 in payouts. Only five had flood insurance. Others had claims through homeowners, auto or other insurance.
Seeing so many people lacking proper insurance then and now, Redmer urged home and business owners “to contact their agents or brokers and make informed decisions about what kind of coverage they should have.”
Kittleman told residents it appeared that utilities were not hit as badly as they were in the 2016 flood, and that 92 percent of gas connections had been restored by BGE.
Jackie Scott, director of the department of community resources and services, told attendees about the local and state agencies and nonprofits available at the newly created Disaster Assistance Center, which opened this week at the Ellicott City 50+ Center.
County officials told the crowd that no thefts had been reported following the flood, and that 198 vehicles had been removed.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.