Crews mop up W. Md.


Storm cleanup in parts of Allegany County continued yesterday after 5 inches of rain pounded the county in less than an hour Friday night, sweeping away 80 campsites in Rocky Gap State Park and closing part of Interstate 68 under several feet of water for two hours.

"The slope of the mountain has a number of very small streams, and these streams that were so nice to sleep by a couple of nights ago became raging torrents in a matter of minutes," said Rocky Gap ranger Bill Cihlar, a 17-year veteran of the park.

"They took out gravel camp pads, sand coverings, lumber framing the sites, some picnic tables -- all swept away. The bulk of this 5 inches fell in about 20 minutes. I've never seen such intense rain."

The resulting flash floods caused rock slides, carried away several cars abandoned on roads and left several people clinging to trees until volunteers from local fire departments in the area around Cumberland could rescue them.

Throughout the greater Cumberland area -- the park is a few miles east of the city -- emergency crews answered more than 150 calls during the storm.

Fire engines drove through water several feet deep to ferry several heart attack victims to waiting ambulances. It was unclear whether the storm conditions were connected to the heart attacks occurring.

"We had so much water in a short period of time, our priority was making sure people were OK," said Robert Phillips, a dispatcher with Allegany County Emergency Management. "Pumping out basements, we put on hold."

The interstate's drainage system backed up almost immediately as 4-foot-deep water coursed across I-68 between the famous Martin Mountain "gap" that gives the nearby park its name.

No one was reported missing or injured, but I-68, one of Western Maryland's major east-west arteries, was shut in both directions at the base of the mountain from 5:30 p.m. until about 7:30 p.m.

The storm also forced the closure of Route 144, which parallels the interstate, closing off all traffic into and out of Cumberland.

"It was a mess," said Trooper J. D. Barber of the Cumberland barracks. "I have been a trooper in the area for over five years and seen major storms before, but I've never seen flooding of this magnitude."

State highway crews used snowplows to clear highway drains of debris and worked most of yesterday to clean up the mess left behind in areas east of Cumberland as families and business owners swept muck out of basements.

No estimate of damage was available yesterday as cleanup continued.

The rain was part of a lingering storm system that has devastated parts of north-central Virginia and earlier in the week caused significant flooding -- again by streams and mountainside runoff -- in Westernport, on the Potomac River in western Allegany County.

Weather forecasters said yesterday that the worst was over, though. The forecast for today, in fact, was for clearing and cooler weather.

The 3,200-acre Rocky Gap park in Flintstone remained open yesterday. But rangers said most of the sand on the west and north beach areas was washed away, trails were seriously eroded and one group campsite for children was wiped out.

For information on conditions at Rocky Gap State Park this weekend, call (301) 777-2138.

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