Harford County emergency officials dealt with what one called "the worst storm event" in months, as the county was caught in a massive deluge that dropped up to 9 inches of rain in some areas between late Tuesday night and early Thursday morning.
Fire companies and members of the county's Technical Rescue Team responded to multiple situations in which motorists became stranded in high water, as creeks and drainage culverts overflowed their banks.
Drivers were stranded despite posted warnings to avoid areas of high water.
"Our biggest challenge was the number of motorists that just did not pay attention to directions, that did not heed warnings and signage on blocked roads," Robert Thomas, spokesman for the county Department of Emergency Services, said Thursday.
County emergency officials urged residents to "shelter in place" late Wednesday afternoon, as the waters of Winters Run overflowed its banks in Joppa.
Flash flooding caused deep standing water and road closures all over the county, from two-lane secondary roads in rural areas to major highways, in particular Route 40 which runs through the county from Joppa to Havre de Grace and roughly follows the low lying coastal plain, and Route 24 in Street near Deer Creek.
More than 30 sections of county roads were closed Wednesday night, and two sections – one along Craigs Corner Road near Havre de Grace and the other along Falling Branch Road in Street – remained closed Thursday, according to county emergency services. For updates visit http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/alerts/Roads.
Many of those closures, and the subsequent rescues, came during the Wednesday afternoon commute home.
"This was the worst storm event that we had to work through in the past six months," Thomas said. "This surpassed any of the winter storms with snow and ice; we had far more challenges with the flooding conditions, the road closures, the rescues and things along that line than we had during some of the other storms."
Thomas said members of the county Technical Rescue Team responded to 12 incidents, including one on the Harford-Baltimore County line, and another in Cecil County, between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. Wednesday. They supported fire companies who responded.
Five people were rescued after becoming trapped in a vehicle along Sandy Hook Road, near the intersection with Walters Mill Road in Street, because of the Deer Creek flooding, and five were rescued in the Joppa area because of Winters Run flooding.
One of those rescued in Joppa was a "juvenile" who was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air with "non life-threatening injuries," according to the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company.
Thomas said the driver of a school bus had to be assisted by a sheriff's deputy after the bus became stranded in 10 to 12 inches of water near the intersection of Route 7 and Route 136 in Creswell.
"Thankfully the bus was not occupied by school children," Thomas said.
Thomas said 4 to 5 inches of rain fell in northern Harford County, and 7 inches fell from Bel Air to the southern part of the county.
Gerry Luft, a meteorologist with the ATC Meteorology Team at Aberdeen Proving Ground, said 6.68 inches fell at Phillips Army Air Field from Monday to Thursday. He said the majority, about 6 inches, fell during Wednesday's storm.
Eleanor Edwards, who lives in the South Tollgate area near Bel Air, recorded 9 inches between 6 a.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. Thursday on her home rain gauge.
"When it opened up, it was horrible [Wednesday] night," Edwards said. "The rain gutters couldn't even take it."
Havre de Grace flooding
Havre de Grace residents had to deal with multiple blocked roads, including two of the three main arteries in and out of the city.
Pfc. Jeff Gilpin, spokesman for the Havre de Grace Police Department, said portions of Revolution Street and Juniata Street were blocked, leaving Route 155 as the only way in to the city Wednesday night. At the height of the storm, county emergency services said 10 roads were closed in the city.
"Motorists were very safe, and they exercised due caution, which we're very appreciative of," he said Thursday.
Students and staff at Havre de Grace Elementary School had to remain in the building about two and a half hours after the school day ended at 4 p.m. Wednesday because the surrounding streets were flooded.
Students and staff left once conditions were safe, Thomas said.
City residents received a robocall around 9 p.m. Wednesday, informing them that they could not call their police department's main number, 410-939-2121, from their cell phones.
Gilpin said all streets were open and telephone access was clear, as of Thursday. He noted anyone who had an emergency while the cell service was out could still call 911 and be connected to the city police through the county EOC.
"We were able to make sure that any police services were not interrupted," he added.
City spokesman John Van Gilder said a public works employee was injured after being struck by a vehicle while directing traffic around a flooded area at Juniata and Erie Streets. The injury was not serious, he said.
Van Gilder said a section of slope about 50 feet long and 10 feet on the grounds of the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum along Lafayette Street collapsed, but there were no injuries and no damage to the museum facilities.
Van Gilder also urged boaters to be very cautious when navigating the upper portion of the Susquehanna River to avoid tree limbs and other debris that came down river after multiple spill gates of the Conowingo Dam were opened Wednesday.
At 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the Conwingo Spill Hotline was reporting none of the dam's 50 gates were open and the river flow through the dam was 77,000 cubic feet per second.
Little Deer Creek dam
County emergency and public works officials worked Wednesday and Thursday to resolve issues with an earthen dam in the White Hall area, whose integrity had become a concern because of a clogged outlet pipe in the impoundment behind the dam.
Harford County Department of Public Works engineers, joined by emergency manager Ayers and other emergency services officials, assessed the integrity of the earthen dam off the 4400 block of Harford Creamery Road Wednesday morning.
Thomas said Thursday that DPW engineers remain on site, and they plan to lower the water level by 8 to 10 feet over the next "several days" to allow them access to the blocked spillway.
The dam, built in 1961 along Little Deer Creek, holds back approximately 8 million cubic feet of water, according to emergency services officials.
The dam itself appeared to be sound during Wednesday's morning's site visit; however, one official said there appeared to be some seepage of water from the bottom of the grass covered, earth mound.
Aegis staff member Matt Button contributed to this story.