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Howard County Times
Howard County

At disaster center, Ellicott City flood victims seek aid and answers

Donna Sanger pulled into the parking lot of the Howard County 50+ Center's temporary disaster assistance center, in Ellicott City, Tuesday afternoon, looking for help and information. On Saturday, the flash flood that rampaged through downtown Ellicott City had destroyed her short-lived Main Street business, Park Ridge Trading Company, which sold foods, glassware and jewelry.

Outside the entrance, Howard County government officials had set up folding tables under a blue canopy and laid out intake forms for property and business owners, like Sanger, who had incurred losses in the flood, and were seeking some relief.

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County Executive Allan Kittleman announced the center's opening late Monday afternoon as a central location where owners and residents affected by the historic flood could find information on necessities. While some individuals sought out monetary relief for basic items such as food, clothing and shelter, others pursued information on their vehicle and homeowner's insurance policies and how they might best move forward while they still had limited access to their flooded businesses.

In the wake of the flood, Sanger was left with dozens of questions, not just about her business, but the future of Ellicott City's Main Street.

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"I [came here because I] wanted to see what they're doing, what they're offering and if they have any sense of how long we're going to be out of the building," Sanger said, walking into the senior center's great room. "If they could say, 'It will be at least a week,' then I know that I need to spend the week doing other things and, at least, volunteering down at the recovery center."

Nearly 20 tables and four times as many chairs filled the main room and additional conference rooms in the center, each of which was dedicated to a specific state or county agency's information booth.

On Saturday night, Main Street saw 6.5 inches of rainfall in about two hours. Within one hour, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., more than 4.5 inches drenched the town.

"It escalated in seconds," said 21-year-old Darren Bush, a resident who, before the flood, lived above Johnny's Bistro on Main Street with roommates Sully Lannon and Jayden Clarida, both 22. "We were literally just sitting there and it was just raining. Then, we looked out the window not even two or three minutes later, it was like a legit river. Our first reaction is, 'Who's downstairs? Who needs help?' We didn't even think about ourselves."

On Tuesday afternoon, Bush, Lannon and Clarida sat in the assistance center with American Red Cross representatives trying to figure out the next step in their living arrangement. All of their belongings remained above the bistro — Bush's skateboard, Lannon's eyeglasses, and Clarida's music compositions — with no hope that they might retrieve them any time soon.

"We don't want to be a burden on anybody, so anywhere where we can get information or help, we're going there," Bush said. "We just want to get our things."

At the adjoining table, associate commissioner Joy Hatchette, of the Maryland Insurance Administration, reviewed car and homeowner's policies. While the administration ensures that insurance companies comply with state laws, Hatchette said its focus at the disaster assistance center is to help people understand their policies.

All policies vary, she said, including vehicle and homeowner's coverage. For automobile coverage, vehicle owners with full coverage will get their wrecked automobile paid for, Hatchette said, but if they don't have full coverage, the insurance company won't pay the claim. The flood carried away numerous vehicles, depositing some in the Patapsco River.

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"Homeowner's insurance never covers flooding," Hatchette explained. "To the extent that people had flood damage, they needed to have flood insurance. We're trying to explain to people that your homeowner's policy is not going to cover this. Your renter's policy is not going to cover this. You would have had to have had a policy issue through the National Flood Insurance Program or through a company that sold a National Flood Insurance Program product."

However, because Ellicott City has flooded in the past, such insurance might be "relatively expensive," Hatchette added.

"When we were talking to people last night, a lot of them were saying they didn't purchase [flood insurance] because they couldn't afford it," she said.

Some store owners were interested in recovering documents, belongings and other items that they need in order to keep their businesses afloat as the cleanup continues.

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Less than two hours after seeing their storefront on Main Street, dual business owner Jane Rohde and office manager Lauren Erikson sat hunched over in the lobby of the 50+ center, filing out their intake form and checking off their necessities for their two separate businesses, JSP Associates consulting and Perspectives Art & Design. At the top of the list, Rohde noted the urgency of retrieving the checks, money, invoicing and bills from JSP Associates.

JSP Associates has operated on Main Street for 19 years and the art gallery since 2006, Erikson said. The consulting firm is now operating out of Rohde's home, while the gallery's future isn't hopeful, she said.

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"We're basically going to move out as soon as we can," Rohde said. "But I can't see how we can manage to find a space for [the gallery] and do it all again. It's just hard. We feel paralyzed. It's been going on for three days, but it feels like it has been going on for months."

Sanger agreed, saying she's eager to recover her store's contents, such as like furniture and flags, which she has seen lying by the Patapsco River while watching media coverage of the flood over the last few days.

"They're not that valuable, but every time a merchant has to replace a $100 item, it adds up," Sanger said. "I'm hoping, at some point, [the county] talks about setting a reclamation area for people so as they find things, merchants can come out and go through it. Hopefully, it will still be there."

The center will remain open at 9401 Frederick Road in Ellicott City for weeks, government officials said.

For more information, go to www.howardcountymd.gov/ECStrong-Recovery-Resources.


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