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Crews continue cleanup, 20 cars still in river after flood in Ellicott City

Ellicott City residents inspect their cars after being damaged in Saturday's flood. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun video)

At sunrise Monday, a somber mood fell on Ellicott City's Main Street as construction crews and emergency personnel bulldozed piles of debris covered in drying mud that lined the street after Saturday's massive flooding left two people dead.

Howard County Spokesman Andy Barth accompanied two reporters and a photographer through the area early on Monday morning, two days after 6 1/2 inches of rain fell on Ellicott City in about two hours Saturday night, a deluge expected to occur only once every thousand years. More than 4.5 inches fell within one hour, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., according to a Howard County rain gauge.

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

Jason Elliott, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office, said that based on records for a gauge 5 miles away in Woodstock, there is a less than 0.1 percent chance of such intense rainfall happening in any given year, making this a once-in-1,000-years storm.

The massive burst of precipitation sent a wave of floodwater cascading down the hillsides in the historic downtown where it turned into a wall of water smashing down Main Street, sweeping away cars and sending restaurant-goers scurrying for higher ground. The water carved away the road and sidewalks, leaving behind massive sinkholes.

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"In the past, water has come from the [Patapsco] river [and traveled] up," Barth said. "But with this, it started from the river [up top] and went down."

On Monday morning, every few hundred feet, Maryland State troopers and Howard County police officers monitored the sites of several shops amid the beeping of businesses' alarms and machinery.

No monetary damages have been estimated as yet, according to the Howard County Emergency Management Department's Director Ryan Miller, but what's left of the quaint and historic shopping area has left passers-by stunned.

Massive tree branches lined the corner of Ellicott Mills Drive and Main Street, where the hillside of St. Luke's A.M.E. Church had been washed away. Crews used 70 truckloads of stone to stabilize the foundation in front of the structure on Sunday.

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The brick sidewalk outside the Howard County Welcome Center had been shoved to the left of the building, falling into an enormous sinkhole at the corner of Hamilton and Main streets.

Businesses, including A Journey from Junk and Salon Marielle, were inaccessible, the front sidewalk disappearing beneath them and exposing their underlying structures. Main Street hallmark Caplan's Department Store was completely gutted, with a large tree sitting inside the storefront alongside the Joan Eve collectibles store. Almost every building was marked with an orange spray-painted 'X,' deeming it unsafe to enter.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced on Facebook that the fire department is completing secondary searches of the properties, preserving their historical architecture by spray-painting only the windows.

The Howard County Fire Department's Twitter page reported Monday morning that 180 vehicles had been towed to Centennial High School. Shortly before 10 a.m., Kittleman announced on Twitter that approximately 20 cars remain in the river and two more cars were in the channel behind Lot D as crews work on removing them throughout the day. The fire department has not yet released details on how residents can claim their vehicles.

Fire Department Chief John Butler said his crew has been working 12-hour shifts, rotating people. In the initial stages fire personnel were focusing on life safety and active research and securing utilities.

"We've been relatively fortunate and it's very sad that we lost two people that we know of. It could've been much worse."

Butler said fire personnel have now transitioned into stabilizing structures along Main Street.

"We are doing a more detailed search and rescue of all structures. In most cases now, we have keys, so we are going from top to bottom. ... These buildings, at some point, all have different structures and layouts."

"Now, time is somewhat on our side, so we can take our time and do a very specific attic-to-basement room-to-room search," Butler said.

While no set time has been determined, Barth said store owners may be able to walk through Main Street later this afternoon, but will not be allowed to access their businesses. Meanwhile, cleanup will continue.

"If we get out of here, leave no equipment behind and no one injured, it'll be a success," Barth said.

Columbia also saw its share of flooding late Saturday, affecting Fairway Hills Golf Course and areas surrounding Lake Kittamaqundi.

"The bridge and boardwalk between holes six and seven [at Fairway Hills Golf Club] were swept away," said Columbia Association spokesman David Greisman. "The floating dock at Lake Kittamaqundi also was damaged. We are not yet sure of the extent. Columbia Association has crews out to see what other damage may have been caused in Columbia."

Businesses throughout the county expressed an eagerness to help assist in the Ellicott City cleanup effort. Although Laurel city officials said there were no reports of flooding in the area, Jailbreak Brewery announced a fundraising effort set for Thursday, Aug. 4 beginning at 3 p.m., with free brewery tours at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. The brewery's Facebook page states that all brewery tour donations will be given to the Ellicott City Partnership for cleaning supplies, such as shovels, trash cans, work gloves, bleach, brooms and dusk masks, in addition to 50 percent of the event's revenue. No tickets are required.

Elkridge-based EVLUTN Apparel founder Adam Herod said his small T-shirt company will also donate 100 percent of its proceeds to business owners, selling Ellicott City-themed shirts. Herod said Ellicott City was the first place he lived after moving to Maryland in 2012. After seeing the countless videos and photos of destruction, he said he wanted to help.

"The shirt design is all about displaying Ellicott City pride," Herod said. "There are a lot of hard working people, from the small business owners to the Howard County Government, that ensure the city is enjoyable for the rest of us. I envision supporters wearing the shirt when the downtown reopens again, and small business owners being able to thank them for their support."

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this story.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

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