Extent of storm damage growing

Tropical Storm Isabel destroyed or severely damaged thousands of Maryland homes and businesses, government officials said yesterday as the full extent of the storm's toll began to emerge.

More than 3,300 homes were damaged or destroyed in eastern Baltimore County, the state's hardest-hit area. Preliminary damage estimates revealed 326 houses destroyed, 1,633 sustaining major damage and 1,412 more with minor damage.

"In many areas, it's like ground zero," County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said.

Bowleys Quarters lost 210 houses and 632 others had major damage, county officials said. Forty houses were destroyed in Turners Station, with 205 suffering major damage, while Watersedge in Dundalk lost 40 houses and had 60 others with major damage. All 70 marinas in the county - a $225 million-a-year industry - suffered damage, county officials said.

Anne Arundel County officials reported at least 72 homes had collapsed and 600 other homes were left uninhabitable because of flood damage. In North Beach, just south of the Anne Arundel line in Calvert County, town officials said as many as 10 bayfront homes might have to be demolished.

And on the Eastern Shore, Rock Hall in Kent County reported severe damage to more than 100 houses and half the town's 52 guest rooms in waterfront motels and inns. The storm left the town's well-known seafood restaurant, Waterman's Crabhouse, which was also the town's biggest employer, wrapped in yellow police tape, its building's decks and docks a likely total loss. And the damage wasn't restricted to coastal homes and businesses. As many as 130 residents living as far as three-quarters of a mile inland had to be rescued by boat, Mayor Jay Jacobs said.

The toll is expected to grow as local governments complete assessments for Federal Emergency Management Agency and Maryland Emergency Management Agency teams that began taking the measure of Isabel's fury yesterday. They'll be joined today by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who plan to tour Baltimore County and Bay City and Kent Narrows in Queen Anne's County.

The damage assessment began as Maryland residents struggled to resume normal lives four days after the storm. "We're just starting to head down that road to normalcy," said Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, the head of the Maryland National Guard. "But people need to know that this isn't a sprint. It's a marathon."

Indeed, yesterday, four days after Isabel, there were still dozens of schools shuttered, more than 300,000 households without electricity and many streets blocked by fallen trees and clotted by broken traffic signals.

But there were signs of progress. Utilities had managed to restore power to almost 1 million of the 1.34 million customers who lost electricity during the storm last Thursday, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission.

About 180,000 of 1.16 million Baltimore Gas and Electric customers remained without electricity last night. Still in the dark: 28,000 in Anne Arundel, 55,000 in Baltimore County, 37,000 in the city of Baltimore, 12,000 in Carroll, 18,000 in Harford and 14,000 in Howard.

Despite the large numbers of BGE customers without power, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley expressed satisfaction with the utility's efforts to restore electricity. "They've got some 3,000 people working on this, a couple of whom died trying to get power back on," O'Malley said. "I think they are responding as quickly as they can."

The Maryland Port Administration announced yesterday that the World Trade Center office building beside the Inner Harbor would be closed for a month as administrators replace the building's entire electrical and communications systems as well as 60 to 80 percent of its mechanical systems. Isabel poured 16 feet of water into the building's basement.

There should be good news today for school systems. In Baltimore County, 140 of 163 schools are set to reopen today, and the school system is making special arrangements to pick up students living in hard-hit Bowleys Quarters. Twenty-three schools are still closed for lack of electricity.

Anne Arundel County school officials expect to open all of their 117 schools today. Harford County officials who kept all their schools closed yesterday because of poor driving conditions plan to open all but three today. The two Howard County schools that lacked power yesterday are expected to open today pending the restoration of electricity and a successful 5 a.m. inspection today. All Carroll County schools were open yesterday.

Road crews continued yesterday to remove trees that blocked streets and roads. In Baltimore, city workers received 1,180 calls about trees and tree limbs blocking roads and laying on top of houses, according to Marion J. Bedingfield, a technician for the city's Forestry Division.

While most of the fallen trees had been removed from roadways, Bedingfield said it would take time to dispose of the road debris. "Some trees we have are taking up to a day to clean up," he said. "We expect we'll be cleaning up for several months."

The last of Baltimore County's shelters closed at noon yesterday, but officials were looking for ways to open showers for residents who had gone days without the power they need to pump water from their wells. By evening, county police cadets were going door to door on the east side handing out bags of ice and, for those with wells, jugs of water.

"We're trying to work with the state and federal government to let people know we'll do everything we can to help them, but a lot of it is going to have to be of their own making," Smith said. "I hope they don't lose their can't-beat-me spirit. They're going to need it."

Baltimore police, meanwhile, were scrambling to assess flood damage to evidence stored in the basement of police headquarters at 601 E. Fayette St. Water rose as high as 3 feet in the evidence control room but does not appear to have damaged much evidence, though some cases might be affected, police officials said.

Matt Jablow, a police spokesman, said that evidence damaged by the flooding was for older cases and might never be needed in a courtroom. Police began moving DNA and other sensitive evidence to upper floors of the building in the days before Isabel.

Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said "it is premature to speculate how many cases will be affected. We are monitoring this day to day."

State environmental officials expressed optimism yesterday that high water will wash away pollution woes created by the discharge of tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage in the days after the storm. They said all but a few sewage pumping stations and waste-water treatment stations were put back in operation over the weekend as flood waters receded and electricity was restored through generators and repaired power lines.

"While you had millions of gallons of sewage, it's mixing with millions of gallons of extra water, so it is somewhat diluted," said Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

State inspectors have been looking for oil spills in flooded neighborhoods, and the state has hired contractors to pump out heating oil tanks. As of Sunday, 7,000 gallons of oil had been collected from flooded homes in Anne Arundel County, and another 5,000 gallons were pumped from tanks in Baltimore County, McIntire said.

With many visible patches of oil floating on floodwaters, environmental officials were urging homeowners not to burn any downed trees or yard waste, warning that fires could quickly spread.

State environmental officials also temporarily banned shellfish harvesting in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, saying the raw sewage released during flooding may have exposed shellfish to disease-causing organisms.

Officials yesterday identified the contract worker killed in Bowie over the weekend while repairing downed lines for BGE. Dominic S. Bryan of Waycross, Ga., an employee of Pike Electric in North Carolina, touched a live wire, stopping his heart, according to Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George's County fire department.

And an autopsy confirmed that William Charles Biewer, 27, who was found dead in Turners Station on Friday drowned in Isabel's floodwaters, Baltimore County police said.

Sun staff writers Bill Atkinson, Laura Barnhardt, Lane Harvey Brown, Stephanie Desmon, Andrew Green, Rona Kobell, Howard Libit, Del Quentin Wilber, Tom Pelton, Jonathan Rockoff, Childs Walker and Kimberly A.C. Wilson and the Associated Press contributed to this article.