With its low-lying areas, the Patuxent River on its northern border and the Duckett Dam nearby, floods are nothing new to Laurel. Since the storied Tropical Storm Agnes-related flooding of 1972, the Patuxent has overflowed its banks 12 or 13 times, according to Marty Flemion, Laurel's deputy city administrator and director of emergency operations.
Three of the most devastating floods — including the Agnes-related one — were caused at least in part by WSSC's opening the floodgates to the Duckett Dam.
• June 1972: A hurricane when it swept through the South, Agnes was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Maryland. But it still packed plenty of punch, soaking the area with 10 to 14 inches of rain.
When dam operators opened the floodgates, water rushed through an already saturated Laurel. Major roadways were shut down and bridges washed away. Several businesses suffered catastrophic losses, and some 1,000 city residents had to be evacuated. Damages were in the millions of dollars.
The flooding prompted WSSC to change how it deals with rising water levels and its emergency notification system. The city and some of its businesses also made changes aimed at averting the damage from future floods.
• January 2013: Heavy rains again prompted WSSC to open its floodgates, and once again Laurel was flooded. Hundreds of homes and apartments were evacuated and a homeless woman was found floating in the water dead in nearby Anne Arundel County near Laurel-Fort Meade and Racetrack roads, where police were clearing out a homeless encampment threatened by the floods.
• April 2014: A half-foot of heavy rain saturated the area and filled the reservoir behind the Duckett Dam, prompting worried WSSC officials to open all of the floodgates. At least three businesses near the Patuxent River — Fred Frederick Chrysler Jeep, Dodge; Aamco Transmission; and Progressive Rent-a-Car — suffered major losses, hundreds of families were evacuated from their homes, several roads were temporarily shut down and the city's Riverfront Park was left in ruins.