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Flooding leaves town with $1.7 million in damage


WESTERNPORT -- The same thunderstorms that devastated parts of north-central Virginia with flooding this week have caused $1.7 million in damage to this small town along the Potomac River's north branch.

About 200 homes and three businesses in Westernport, an old coal-mining town of about 2,500 people tucked along the edge of a mountain in southwestern Allegany County, sustained damage ranging from basement flooding to fallen walls and washed-out foundations, said Dick Long, assistant director of Allegany County Emergency Management.

Streets, sidewalks and drainage systems were heavily damaged by flooding, mud and rock slides, town officials said. Some town streets remained closed last night.

"Boulders came right through people's front doors. Water took out pieces of blacktop, lifted blacktop pieces up and moved them away -- it looked like someone picked up a kid's race track," said Leo Nesmith, owner of an Exxon gas station at the town's east end.

County officials said water from Georges Creek, the Potomac River and streams on surrounding mountains overflowed after a few days of rain, flooding town streets and prompting the closing of all three main routes out of Westernport for several hours Tuesday. Flash flood warnings prompted dozens of residents to evacuate the downtown area.

"It was like a river running down the streets of Luke Hill," said Patsy Koontz, a spokeswoman at Westvaco, a paper mill along the Potomac River in Luke, a mile west of Westernport. "I've never seen anything like it."

Gary Nesmith, who works at his father's Exxon gas station, agreed: "It was a mess. The [Potomac] river was up high -- you could see whitewater like it was all rapids. It sounded just like a train going by, but the water came from the mountain."

State officials are seeking low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration to help Westernport homeowners and businesses, said Lisa Albin, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. State and county emergency officials have ruled out help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because the number of flood victims with insurance exceeds FEMA guidelines, Mr. Long said.

"Most of the damage has been confined to Westernport," Ms. Albin said. "The area got hit really hard. We think the area meets Small Business Administration requirements and we can get help for them."

Col. David McMillion, director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said some people may be disappointed to find that their homeowners' insurance does not cover damage caused by a mud slide.

Meanwhile, high water levels continued to mean hazardous conditions along the Potomac River in Western Maryland yesterday. State Department of Natural Resources officials warned boaters, anglers and other recreational users to stay off the waterway. Water levels were reported at hazardous levels at Cumberland, Williamsport, Point of Rocks, Hancock, and Harper's Ferry and Paw Paw, W. Va.

DNR Rangers rescued two groups of campers stranded on Wednesday along the banks of the Potomac River because of high water.

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