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Always something: snow, then rain Frederick store's roof collapses


The problems caused by too much snow began melting and washing away yesterday, replaced by the problem of too much water during a day of almost constant rain across Maryland.

In Frederick, the heavy snow and rain were blamed for the collapse of a department store roof, and rescue workers credited a manager with averting disaster by quick action.

Manager Marc Jordan closed the Leggett department store at the Francis Scott Key Mall and sent most of the store's 70 workers to a customer service area just before a 75-by-75-foot section of the roof collapsed over cosmetic counters about 10:40 a.m.

"Because of the manager's swift action and evacuation of the store, there were no injuries," said Warren Stevens, chief of the United Fire Company of Frederick. "I'm certain there would have been significant injuries and deaths if the manager had not paid attention to the loud noises."

In Central Maryland, where a flood watch had been declared for much of the day, many streams and creeks overran their banks.

Low-lying roads and streets were under a few inches of water, and numerous homeowners coped with flooded basements.

In eastern Baltimore County, flooding forced the temporary closing of parts of Golden Ring and Old Battle Grove roads.

"It's a combination of the heavy rain and the tides," said Tom Hamer, deputy director of public works.

Flooding caused by melting ice prompted the closing of Anne Arundel County's Corkran Middle School, in Glen Burnie, for the week.

More than an inch of rain was measured outside the National Weather Service office at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, increasing the total precipitation there for March to 6.24 inches and -- with two weeks remaining -- bringing it near the record for the month of 6.80 set in 1983.

On the Eastern Shore, the southerly flow of moist air bringing rain also produced dramatically warmer temperatures. The high temperature in Salisbury was a balmy 65 degrees.

Highway workers finishing the task of snow removal in blizzard-buried Garrett County coped with cold rain -- precipitation that Weather Service meteorologists said would mostly be absorbed by the snow on the ground and pose no immediate threat of major flooding.

"What you don't want to have is 70 [degrees] and a big warm rain," said Cory Gates, at the weather Service office in Sterling, Va., that monitors river water levels in the region.

With a forecast of chilly, dry weather for the next few days, Mr. Gates said, "it looks like a very slow melt and that's what we want."

At the Frederick Leggett's store, workers reported hearing creaking and other noises coming from the roof shortly after arriving for work about 8 a.m. Most assumed the noise was snow melting because of the rain. When the store opened at 10 a.m., the noises grew louder, and the store manager asked customers to leave. Mr. Jordan, the manager, and a maintenance man went to the roof with shovels to remove snow.

"There was this large thud, and then the roof came down," said Susie Miller, Leggett's special events coordinator. "We're lucky. The manager made all the right choices before it happened."

"All of a sudden there was this large banging and the roof started coming toward us," said employee Eric Rudolph. "I yelled, 'It's coming down -- get out.' We all ran out and the roof came down behind us."

The store and mall were closed throughout the day as rescue workers and structural engineers from Crown American Corp., the mall's owner, surveyed damage and inspected the mall's roof.

"We've got all kinds of people down at the scene," said Christine Menna, a Crown American spokeswoman. "We do have people checking the situation out and working with local officials."

However, Chief Stevens said the company's engineers found other spots on the roof near collapse. He said the weekend blizzard left 4- to 6-foot drifts on the roof and the snow, coupled with rain, blocked drainage. "I think the potential is there for this to happen anywhere," Chief Stevens said. "We are concerned about the rest of the mall."

Ms. Menna, who had no damage estimate, said she didn't know how long the 85-store mall would remain closed. The mall, off Route 355 just south of Frederick and Interstate 70, opened in 1978. The Leggett store opened in a new wing in 1991.

She declined to comment further.

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