Marylanders fascinated with the news of the burglary at Democratic campaign headquarters at the Watergate in Washington, probably paid little attention to a routine weather story.
An Associated Press brief in The Sun June 20, 1972, reported: "Hurricane Agnes smashed the Florida panhandle with 80-mile-an-hour winds, heavy rains and raging seas yesterday, but its fury started to subside as it churned inland. At least 12 persons, five in Florida, were left dead in the wake of the 1972 hurricane season's first storm."
The storm, first identified June 16 as a tropical depression off the northeast coast of the Yucatan peninsula, reached hurricane status briefly, and killed seven as it passed over Cuba.
After hitting Florida, the storm's winds dropped back to tropical storm level as it moved in a northeasterly direction, the National Hurricane Center reported. The next day, as the storm veered toward Maryland, The Sun's weather prediction was not unusual or alarming.
"Rain heavy at times but tapering off this afternoon. Along the Atlantic coast resorts there will be rough seas and heavy surf with rain becoming heavy early today and tapering off to showers tonight."
On Thursday, June 22, the full force of "tropical storm" Agnes was unleashed not only on Maryland but the entire Eastern seaboard.
"At least 10 persons were reported dead or missing and thousands were forced from their homes as heavy rains caused widespread flooding through central parts of the state," reported The Evening Sun.
Midmorning on June 22, Mayor William Donald Schaefer, warned by officials that the 111-year-old dam at the bottom of Lake Roland was near the breaking point as waters 4 to 6 feet deep poured over the top, ordered the evacuation of the entire Jones Falls Valley.
Officials feared that if the dam collapsed, a wall of water 10 to 12 high feet would roar down the valley into Baltimore. In the end, the dam held.
The Dulaney Valley Road bridge over the Loch Raven reservoir was closed as concrete at both ends of the bridge began to weaken and police feared its collapse.
Gov. Marvin Mandel authorized National Guard troops to aid flood victims throughout the state. Evacuations were ordered for Lansdowne, Villa Nova, Woodmoor, Lake Roland, Laurel, portions of Carroll County and Montgomery County; and for Savage, Marriottsville, Ellicott City, Clarksville and Elkridge in Howard County.
The Jones Falls Expressway was closed. Commuter rail service was suspended between Baltimore and Washington for several hours as through trains between Washington, New York and Boston were delayed several hours because of the heavy flooding.
In the city, the Gwynns Falls crested at 8 to 10 feet and inundated homes in low-lying areas between Milford Mill Road and Windsor Mill Road.
Telephone poles collapsed, disrupting telephone and power service throughout the metropolitan area.
Thousands of basements were flooded. Gas mains in Joppatowne and South Baltimore were broken by flooding waters, and the Harbor Tunnel was closed.
Three children, Andrew Shelton, 7 months, Lyla Shelton, 19 months, and Thomas Shelton, 3 1/2 years -- were found drowned in their mother's car at Ruxton and Falls roads, after being hit by powerful flood waters. Their mother, Carlotta Shelton, was swept from the car and later found at 6 a.m. in a nearby tree.
"She couldn't loosen the children from their car seats in time. She spent an hour sitting in a tree it was the only thing she could grab a hold of," said Deborah Boyd, a family friend.
Shelton had left her Ruxton home with her children after being told by the Baltimore County Fire Department to evacuate. "She tried three routes and they were all blocked," Boyd said. "She was trying to get to Falls Road, and at the time she didn't know that was underwater, too."
Raging waters in Harford County blocked use of U.S. 40, while in Frederick County, State Police rescued four members of a family and their landlord from the roof of their home near the Monocacy River.
Ten miles of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad track were washed away near Ellicott City, exposing some of the railroad's original stone stringers and marooning a 150-car freight train.
The city's Main Street was under 12 feet of water as residents, stunned by what had happened, gathered at the water's edge.
"But in the distance, beyond the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad stone bridge in Ellicott City's center and at the throughway ramp in Elkridge, the terrible reality of yesterday's killer flood could be seen in the surging, swirling, angry waters of the rain-swollen river," observed The Evening Sun.
The Potomac and Susquehanna rivers overflowed their banks as residents of Port Deposit and Havre de Grace were evacuated.
All 50 floodgates of the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River were opened, for the first time since the floods of 1936.
On the Eastern Shore, the picture was somewhat different.
"In Salisbury, city police said they have 'detoured a little traffic' because some streets are flooded, a few traffic lights are out, and some trees are down," reported The Evening Sun.
"It was a day for capes, caps and combat boots and never before had so many boats been so far inland," said The Evening Sun. "The rains came and came. and came and brought with them tragedy and fear, kindness and cooperation, and even a little comedy.
"One couple on Buckingham Road near Gwynns Falls tied their dog to a bedpost for the night. When they awoke to find the flood waters rising they went to get the dog and he was fTC swimming above the bed," reported the newspaper.
As Agnes pulled away from the state, the effects of the disaster lingered for a long time.
The United States Weather Service reported that College Park had had 6.61 inches of rain; Baltimore, 7.66; Towson, 3.50; Pikesville, 7.88; and Salisbury, 3.10.
With damage estimates placed at $55 million, which was later revised to $62 million, and 21 dead, and the state declared a disaster area by President Richard M. Nixon, Marylanders began the slow and heart-breaking cleanup.
"Look at this mud, will ya. What in the hell am I going to do with all this mud?" Adam Boudris said, throwing his arms up in total exasperation, The Sun reported.
Boudris, superintendent at the Maryland Nuts and Bolt plant at Smith Avenue and Falls Road, in addition to the slick mud had to contend with the hulks of several large trees that had floated into the huge machine shop and became wedged against the shop's heavy machinery and thousands and thousands of nuts and bolts that had been ripped by flood waters from their packing cases.
"Once Tropical Storm Agnes set her course, there was little Maryland and the rest of the Mid-Atlantic could do to avoid her fury. The steady, pounding rain and gusty winds accounted for more than the normal death and destruction witnessed during other severe storms in the recent past," said The Sun in an editorial.
According to the National Weather Service in a 25th anniversary report, Hurricane Agnes, which killed 122, set Northeast inland flood records and caused $3.2 billion in property damage; it remained the nation's most costly natural disaster until Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Pub Date: 6/22/97