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Kevin Dayhoff: Hurricane Ida was only the latest in a long list of unwelcome guests to visit Carroll County

By now Carroll Countians have experienced, or heard about, the flooding and storm damage around Taneytown, Harney, and other parts of the county last Wednesday. Basements across the county flooded.

Many of the mid-Atlantic states, including Central Maryland, felt the power of Hurricane Ida as it moved through the region.

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In Anne Arundel County, a Wednesday afternoon tornado reached winds of up to 125 mph and traveled more than 11 miles, according to the National Weather Service. Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane that caused $125 billion in damage and more than 1,800 deaths in late August 2005. At one point, winds of 175 mph caused havoc in Louisiana and along the Mississippi River. According to a Tropical Cyclone Report by the National Hurricane Center, Katrina remained powerful well into Mississippi, finally losing hurricane strength more than 150 miles inland near Meridian. The resulting extratropical storm moved rapidly to the northeast and even affected eastern Canada.

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Folks in Carroll County speak of Maryland winters with dread. At the same time, they often say we are fortunate to have largely escaped such vagaries of Mother Nature as floods, fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

Well, not so fast. In Carroll County, we do have a history of natural disasters, including snowstorms, floods, tornadoes, and fires. These events present a serious danger to public safety, health, and welfare. But we do emergency response well in Carroll County because throughout history we have been given lots of opportunities to practice. And I have had lots of practice writing about emergency response. It has been a frequent topic in this space. Portions of this discussion have been published before.

On April 9 and 10, 1883, an entire section of Westminster, from John Street to Carroll Street to Main Street, burned to the ground.

We have also had a number of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms go through town. Back on Feb. 19, 1893, a tornado destroyed the steeple at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ at the corner of Green and Bond streets.

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On June 19, 1952, at 4:45 p.m., a storm destroyed the St. John’s Roman Catholic Church steeple on Main Street — where the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library is located today. On May 23, 1979, a tornado came through the same section of Westminster and caused a good bit of damage.

Often the storms follow the same path, starting in the southwest corner of the city, around the intersection of West Green Street and Doyle Avenue, now known as Old New Windsor Road. The storms then travel northeast over Belle Grove Square and through the center of town toward the intersection of Routes 140 and 27.

As a matter of fact, the February 2020 tornado followed roughly the same route through town. According to an article in this newspaper on Feb. 7, 2020, by Mary Grace Keller, the “fast-moving storm that charged through Carroll County on Friday morning was indeed a tornado. … [It] damaged buildings, downed trees and caused erratic damage. …”

An eight-block section of Westminster suffered considerable damage. The response by the Westminster Fire Department and allied agencies throughout Carroll and neighboring counties was swift.

Hurricanes and flooding have also been a problem in Carroll County. In the days after June 21, 1972, 13 inches of rain from Hurricane Agnes fell on the county in a 48-hour period and caused extensive flooding damage. Three years later, in September of 1975, Hurricane Eloise also caused flooding.

According to a history published by the Reese and Community Volunteer Fire Company, “In June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes struck the area. The company was directly involved with the rescue of five people at Martin Long’s store and apartments in Carrollton … and 11 days were spent with apparatus and men at the Congoleum Nairn Plant in Finksburg helping them get their factory back in operation.”

From Feb. 15-18, 2003, 28.2 inches of snow fell on Westminster in what has become known as “the Presidents Day snowstorm.” At the time, it was the worst snowstorm in Westminster’s history. A total of 34.6 inches of snow fell in February 2003.

Of course, 2003 was also the year in which it rained for 91½ hours straight during Hurricane Isabel. As many as 38,000 Carroll County customers of Baltimore Gas & Electric and Allegheny Energy lost power in the September storm.

On July 26 of the same year, a sinkhole swallowed the Westminster intersection at West Green and Anchor streets. The 50-by-60-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep sinkhole occurred when a saturated opening deep in the ground weakened the intersection and caused the collapse.

Fortunately, Carroll County has a history of being well-prepared to deal with public safety emergencies and disasters. Our local fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and elected and appointed officials are well-trained and dedicated to ensuring our safety. However, in the end, personal responsibility is our best protection against the natural forces that wish to do us harm. It is up to all of us to be ever vigilant, plan, and be well-prepared.

That said, as long as there is someone in need of a helping hand, we all have a responsibility to contribute or volunteer generously. Not only is it the right thing to do and a noble tradition in Carroll County, but the next person who needs help just might be you.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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