Advertisement
Howard County Times
Howard County

After night of flooding, Ellicott City business owners ponder rebuilding

Ellicott City business owners recall their night of flooding and look ahead to rebuilding:

Matcha Time Cafe

Advertisement

Before opening Matcha Time Cafe, a quaint Japanese shop selling teas, soups and sweets three years ago in the 3700 block of Hamilton Street, Hatsumi Watanabe-Smith knew floods hit historic Ellicott City hard.

Everyone knew water pooled in the historic district's age-old crannies, she said.

Advertisement

A footbridge that cuts across Ellicott City's main parking lot, which was submerged in water, often closed because of minor flooding.

But she didn't expect flooding could bow Main Street to near-total destruction.

On Saturday night, Watanabe-Smith helplessly watched as cars and trash bins floated by her shop. She had closed around 8 p.m. as waters began to rise.

"I'm Japanese and I have seen the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan almost five years ago. It reminds me of the tsunami. This is a disaster," she said. "Main Street was dead. I am shocked."

Her husband, Derek Smith, tried to reach the shop from Centennial Lane in Ellicott City, but couldn't because all roads were blocked. Police evacuated Watanabe-Smith, her staff, and her 9-year-old nephew from the shop, after the staff waited three hours for the waters to subside.

Makiko Taylor, a Matcha Time Cafe staff member, had watched helplessly as the waters surged.

"It was shocking. I just realized the force of nature is so strong there is nothing you can do once it starts," Taylor said.

Well before the water began to flood, Kenneth Lorena, a 19-year-old who joined the Matcha Time Cafe earlier this year, ventured out to move her car and his own.

Advertisement

The tide was so strong Lorena couldn't find his way back.

As a child, Lorena had seen flooding while growing up in The Philippines. Lorena said, that when he went outside to move his car, he tried to urge others to stop their cars. But few listened, he said.

"I was with three other people. This lady screamed at us to help her. Someone was stuck on the first floor of [a building nearby]," Lorena said. "We had to break the windows to get them out of there. It's pretty scary … the next thing you knew, the water was too strong and I couldn't get back."

As of Sunday around 4 p.m., Lorena had not found his car, a 2013 Subaru BRZ he recently bought. It was his first car. He was able, however, to move Watanabe-Smith's car to higher ground. "I'm just so blown about it. But we were lucky," Lorena said.

Taylor said she was proud of Lorena: "He's just a kid and he sacrificed his own car to get his owner's out first. He risked his life to save others."

It could take weeks to rebuild, according to the cafe's staff.

Advertisement

"The streets are torn up, the buildings are demolished. It's just incredible. I've never seen anything like this in this area," said Smith. "We are incredibly lucky to be safe."

Park Ridge Trading Co.

After celebrating the store's ribbon cutting ceremony just two weeks ago at 8080 Main St., Park Ridge Trading Co. co-owner Donna Sanger said the flood's force swept away the culinary storefront, whisking the olive oils, salsa, sea salt nuts and soups that had been displayed down to the trees along the river. Sanger said the store had been open throughout the day, but closed at 6:30 p.m. when the rain started to pick up.

As videos of the damages began to surface online, Sanger said she saw County Executive Allan Kittleman, Gov. Larry Hogan and state Del. Robert Flanagan standing outside her windowless storefront.

"Allan was telling [the governor] that they had just been there for the ribbon cutting," Sanger said. "The window structure is totally gone and the front door is intact and locked, but there's nothing on the first floor. The walls are bare all the way up to the top and the sheet rock is ripped away from the walls and that's from the force of the water."

Howard County Times: Top stories

Howard County Times: Top stories

Weekdays

Daily highlights from Howard County's number one source for local news.

The heavy slate-topped counters, once displaying about 400 bottles of olive oil near the front door, were also pushed to the back of the store by rushing water.

Advertisement

"They are massive and heavy pieces," Sanger said. "The force of the water was impressive. The store is destroyed. I mean, it's totally destroyed."

The only item that remains is the shop's "Live Well, Give Back" banner above the front counter.

Sanger said she also heard that the three apartments located above the business were OK and that the tenants were gone but their pets were still there. The owner said police are currently in the search-and-recovery phase, while determining the building's stability.

"Some of the buildings on the other side of the street are not stable and they don't look stable," Sanger said Sunday afternoon. "They look undercut and in danger of collapse, so I understand why they won't let us down the street."

Sanger said she plans to rebuild with the help of her insurance claim. She worries about other storeowners who have no insurance, and the two people who died as a result of the flooding.

"I'm more concerned about the people who have lost their lives and the people who depended on [their business] as their full livelihood," she said. "I will rebuild, but I don't know what kind of store because I think we have to think about, overtime, what Ellicott City really needs there in that spot. Given the damage though and the infrastructure, I don't see there being any commerce there for at least six months."


Advertisement