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Howard County Times
Howard County

Job fair, opportunities planned for those without jobs after Ellicott City flood

Economist: "This is not just a Howard County problem. This is a statewide issue."

As work continues to clean up the devastation from Saturday's flash flood in Ellicott City, officials also are starting to focus on the economic fallout from the deadly storm.

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Officials still are assembling a count of the number of businesses closed and employees unable to work as a result of the wall of water that swept through the historic downtown, killing two and destroying shops, homes, cars and streets.

Tom Coale, vice chair of the Ellicott City Partnership, said at least 40 businesses were affected.

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Economist Anirban Basu said he expects the quaint old town, which drew visitors from across the state, to face severe economic consequences.

"When one looks at the property damage that's been done, the loss of jobs, the interruption of business and the amount of money the state and county will need to invest to restore Main Street Ellicott City, the figure is likely in the nine digits — and that's conservative," he said. "This is not just a Howard County problem. This is a statewide issue."

As officials guided residents and businesses into the area Thursday to pick up belongings and inspect the wreckage, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency surveyed the damage as well. The state plans to seek disaster relief from FEMA, but it might take at least a week to submit the application, Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman said.

About 90 people had entered the damaged areas and retrieved items Thursday, according to Kittleman. More people will be allowed to visit properties on Main Street again on Friday from 11 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. while volunteers perform cleanup in limited areas.

The county plans to demolish two buildings that state and local officials said were facing impending collapse. Kittleman said officials are working with the owner of the structures, at 8109 and 8113 Main St., which contain a mix of commercial and residential space, to make a final decision.

"We will do the demolition as soon as we can," Kittleman said. "We're not taking it lightly. We understand public safety. We certainly don't want it to fall in and dam up the river and cause problems to somebody else, but at the same time, we are going to respect the property rights of those individuals."

The county also plans to extend the state of emergency declared Saturday, as required under county law for any emergency that lasts longer than seven days.

Howard County crews completed a temporary repair Thursday to a broken sewer line that had sent about 5 million gallons of untreated water a day into the Sucker Branch tributary of the Patapsco River, officials said. A more permanent fix is in the works, said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, whose inspectors were on site to oversee the work.

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The Howard County Office of Workforce Development plans to host a job fair at the Disaster Assistance Center on Frederick Road between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday to help recently unemployed workers from Ellicott City's Main Street business district.

About 20 employers, many of them restaurants, retail or customer service, are expected to be on hand, and officials also will offer assistance with resumes, said Francine Trout, director of the Howard County Office of Workforce Development.

A Facebook group for workers affected by the floods had amassed more than 1,000 members by Thursday afternoon, collecting more than 50 postings about job openings throughout the region, said Alex Belush, who created the Keep Ellicott City Working group on the social media network.

"People in the service industry — we're close and very much a family," said Belush, 28, a former bartender who works in marketing. "This is the kind of time that people come together and help each other out."

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Basu said service workers might be able to find work relatively quickly, but the loss of even a few paychecks is likely to be tough. For the entrepreneurs and business owners, getting back on their feet may be even harder.

The Ellicott City Partnership, which runs the local Main Street program, has spent part of the last two days distributing dozens of $100 Visa check cards to help tide over merchants, residents and property owners, Coale said.

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The group has received more than $100,000 in donations, Coale said. The United Way of Central Maryland also said Thursday that it had received more than $110,000 in donations for its ECStrong fund from local corporations and more than 700 individual donors.

More than 2,500 people have called the county offering help. The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks will register volunteers for cleanup at the ECStrong Volunteer Reception Center in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 3200 North Ridge Road in Ellicott City, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Volunteers should bring photo identification to register and must be at least 18 years old and able to pick up at least 40 pounds to be eligible to assist.

Baltimore Sun reporters Brittany Britto and Wyatt Massey contributed to this article.

nsherman@baltsun.com


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