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Ceremony honors Ellicott City flood heroes, but celebration of recovery still months away

Councilman Jon Weinstein touted th resilience of the Ellicott City community on Thursday.
Councilman Jon Weinstein touted th resilience of the Ellicott City community on Thursday. (Fatimah Waseem /)

Standing in a newly refurbished store that was once a boutique where children and adults with autism worked, local and state elected officials honored merchants, organizations and residents for their heroism after a deadly flood swept through old Ellicott City nearly three months ago.

But even as Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, Gov. Larry Hogan and Councilman Jon Weinstein honored heroes with tokens that read "time shows us what really matters," Kittleman stressed the ceremony was a celebration for the people — not of a recovered Main Street.

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"This is a celebration of the heroism that was on that night. This isn't a celebration of the event of recovery," Kittleman said Thursday evening. "We will have time to talk about celebrating the recovery of Main Street once people have time to recover."

Gov. Larry Hogan, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and Councilman Jon Weinstein honored Ellicott City heroes Thursday night.
Gov. Larry Hogan, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and Councilman Jon Weinstein honored Ellicott City heroes Thursday night. (Fatimah Waseem /)

That could be months away.

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Main Street opened in early October with an intentional lack of fanfare, Kittleman said. Businesses like Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant, Judge's Bench and Su Casa have opened. Others are eyeing November openings in time for holiday shopping season.

The ceremony honored more than 30 heroes identified through a nominations process. Honored recipients ranged from David Dempster, who was part of a human chain that rescued a woman trapped in her car, to St. Peter's Episcopal Church, which opened its doors as a staging area.

Hogan applauded the resilience of Ellicott City residents and predicted "an even better and brighter future than [the town's] incredible, historic past." Hogan also distributed the governor's official coin to the honorees.

Honorees received a button with the iconic historic Ellicott City clock that was restored after floodwaters swept it away in July.
Honorees received a button with the iconic historic Ellicott City clock that was restored after floodwaters swept it away in July. (Fatimah Waseem /)

The location of the ceremony, a new store called the Furnace, which will open on Nov. 1 and replace the Linwood Center, a low-lying boutique submerged by the flood, is one example of the changes swept in by the flood.

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Choking back tears, Weinstein, who represents the area, said he was humbled by the district's spirit.

"Each and every one is a model for the rest of us. … [They helped] not because there was something in it for them but because it was the right thing to do," Weinstein said.

Officials hope the flood will usher in a stronger, more resilient infrastructure to manage water that regular pools in the 244-year-old river town.

Two studies key to understanding what happened the night of the flood will determine how the county will manage stormwater, said Joe Herr, recovery manager for the county's Office of Emergency Management.

The first study, expected by next spring, is a broad hydrology and drainage analysis of the Tiber Hudson watershed. The other, expected in mid-November, is a case study of the area's streams and relies on interviews with witnesses of the flood.

The county honored more than 30 heroes of the Ellicott City flood Thursday evening.
The county honored more than 30 heroes of the Ellicott City flood Thursday evening. (Fatimah Waseem)

The Army Corps of Engineers is also working on a flood-proofing model that will include recommendations on how to better flood-proof buildings, Herr said.

"These studies all feed together," said Phil Nichols, who works in the Kittleman administration. "That comprehensive analysis will give us a better understanding of the area."

Since the flood, the county has begun $3.8 million in flood management projects. Funded by national grants, the work includes reconstructing retaining walls between two parking lots, a stream wall near Court Avenue and retaining wall that collapsed near 8611 Main St.

Many of these projects were identified in December 2015 as key projects by an advisory flood work group assembled by Kittleman to recommend how to better manage stormwater.

As a result, the "designs were ready to go" before the flood, Nichols said.

In a county report released before the flood, inspectors found most retaining walls along the stream were in poor condition. Masonry buckled into the stream in several areas and mortar was missing from the walls.

Walking down Main Street Thursday, Kittleman said officials and residents intimately close with the ongoing recovery see clear signs of progress.

He prefaced the ceremony with a cautionary note.

"Don't get me wrong. We have a long way to go," he said.

County staff distributed $10 vouchers to encourage attendees to shop in the historic district as they headed out of the newly refurbished building. At the opposing end of the ceremony room, two unhinged doors stood against a freshly painted wall in a town navigating the fine, ambiguous transition from rebuilding to recovery.

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