State escapes brunt of Dennis; Storm brings periods of heavy rain, sun as it brushes Maryland

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Heavy rain squalls and thunderstorms swept across Maryland yesterday, as Tropical Storm Dennis stalled and weakened during its northward trek, flooding low-lying and coastal areas, downing tree branches and causing scattered power outages.

After the storm's 14-day dance with North Carolina's coast, yesterday it was Maryland's turn to deal with the fickle storm that forecasters say could produce periods of heavy rain here for two more days.

Conditions changed from hour to hour yesterday as bursts of heavy rain were replaced by sunshine, allowing some outdoor Labor Day weekend activities to continue -- while some people kept vigil over rising streams and creeks.

Rainfall was measured at 1.7 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and 1.6 inches at the Maryland Science Center in downtown Baltimore. But other areas may have received much more. Parts of Anne Arundel County were inundated by 3 inches of rain, most of it between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and as much as 8 inches fell in parts of Virginia.

Emergency management officials in Maryland were relieved that the storm did not produce widespread damage or flooding, but had tense moments throughout the day.

In Baltimore, a 13-year-old boy had to be rescued from the swollen Jones Falls yesterday afternoon after he fell out of a plastic toddler swimming pool that he and a cousin were using as a raft.

Thomas R. Barksdale of the city's Medfield neighborhood, spent more than an hour before his rescue clinging to a pile of debris snagged between two concrete pillars supporting the Jones Falls Expressway near the 3600 block of Clipper Mill Road.

Flooded areas

Rising water caused problems in many sections.

City public works crews were busy at the Inner Harbor, where the heavy rains and a stiff east wind sent water over the sea wall onto the Harborplace promenade at the afternoon high tide.

In Annapolis, similar conditions forced the closing of downtown's largest parking lot on Dock Street because of flooding.

In Ellicott City, ravaged by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, the Patapsco River ran full, fast and muddy past the downtown historic district -- but remained well below flood stage. But U.S. 1 at Elkridge was closed for about an hour in midafternoon when heavy rain clogged storm drains and caused 2 feet of water to spill across the southbound lanes.

Baltimore County police reported minor street flooding in several communities, including Bowleys Quarters in Middle River and Oella near the Patapsco River, said Richard G. Muth, administrator for the Baltimore County Emergency Management Agency.

North of the city, a burst of heavy rain was reported as a factor in three accidents in the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 below the Beltway. No one was injured, but traffic was snarled for two hours, a state police spokeswoman said.

A tornado watch -- indicating that conditions were favorable for tornadoes to form -- was in effect much of the day, but no tornadoes were reported in Maryland. The watch was canceled by evening when forecasters at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., concluded that the brunt of the storm had passed.

Tropical storm warnings -- Baltimore's first since 1995 -- were issued Saturday night, but discontinued yesterday morning.

"The storm is headed toward West Virginia and Pennsylvania," Dewey Walston of the National Weather Service said last night. "Baltimore has missed most of it, but there will still be some heavy rainfall through Tuesday."

'Brave the weather'

"This is the storm that's been living too long, if you ask me," said Kevin Corrigan, 38, an assistant manager at Bunky's Charters at Solomons in Calvert County.

On the narrow spit of land between the Chesapeake Bay and the Patuxent River there, seaside businesses made no preparations for the storm, saying the only threat was to their bank books.

Corrigan arrived to find four fishing charters he had booked for the weekend canceled because of the weather.

"There's a lot of fish out there right now," Corrigan said. "We just need people who are willing to brave the weather."

Yachts tied up at Annapolis harbor's "Ego Alley" rode higher than usual at their slips, and the brick plaza at the narrow waterway's end was ankle-deep in water. The leading edge of Dennis' "storm surge" -- a bell-shaped dome of gradually rising water pushed north by the storm's winds -- had arrived.

But the water brought by the storm was not a problem for everyone. State officials said the remnants of Dennis would continue Maryland's recovery from the summerlong drought.

"Every bit helps," said J. L. Hearn, director of water management for the state's Department of the Environment. "We still face drought conditions, but the more rain that we get, as well as the conservation efforts of the public, means that we likely won't have to go back to the mandatory water restrictions."

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. reported power outages affecting about 2,000 of its Central Maryland customers.

Damage in N.C.

Formed Aug. 24, Dennis skirted North Carolina's coast Aug. 30, went seaward 165 miles, stalled and then backtracked. For a week, it assailed North Carolina's coast with 14-foot waves and gale-force winds as forecasters tried to guess where it would go.

While Dennis dawdled off Cape Hatteras, it chewed up Hatteras Island's main road, state Route 12, with thundering surf and buried it in drifted beach sand. Yesterday it was reopened to traffic, although only four-wheel-drive vehicles were permitted on the southern end of the island, where state highway crews spent the day laying a new asphalt road.

Freddy Gaskill, a Cedar Island, N.C., fisherman who lives with his wife, Gerri, in a house built in 1921, said Dennis' 9-foot floodwaters swept away 600 of his crab pots, washed out a couple of hundred feet of his dock and sent water into his home for the first time since a 1933 hurricane.

"All week long, it was like I could either cry or get mad," said Gerri Gaskill, "but you have to keep on going."

At midday yesterday, Dennis was drifting northwest toward southwestern Virginia amid a flurry of flash-flood warnings and watches after spinning off a tornado Saturday night in Hampton, Va., that injured more than a dozen people.

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III asked President Clinton to provide federal disaster assistance to people displaced by the tornado.

Water rescue

In Baltimore, aside from the downtown harbor-watch of rising water at high tide, the biggest drama of the storm was the Jones Falls rescue of the swimming-pool rafter.

About 3: 30 p.m., Thomas Barksdale, who lives in the 1400 block of Weldon Place, and his cousin, 13-year-old Kevin L. Bales of the 3800 block of Ash St., climbed into a blue plastic swimming pool that they put into the falls below the Union Avenue bridge to ride the surging current.

Thomas quickly fell out of the makeshift raft, but Kevin floated a half-mile downstream before he leaped ashore.

With the murky water swirling around him, Thomas was rescued at 5: 30 p.m. by 30 city firefighters and paramedics who converged on the scene and hoisted him to the banks of the falls.

'Everything was perfect'

With more than 50 onlookers lining the creek bank, emergency personnel first threw Thomas a rope and a life vest that they had secured to a nearby fence. Members of the city's swift-water rescue team formed a human chain to bring Barksdale to shore.

"Everything was perfect, it worked the way it was supposed to," Baltimore Fire Capt. Robert Finnick said at the scene, noting that it was the first time he had seen a swift-water rescue during his 19 years as a city firefighter. "We are just lucky it was not raining and the creek had stopped rising."

"I was just having fun," Thomas said, cold and trembling as he was carried away on a stretcher. "I just messed up and got tangled up."

He was released after treatment at Union Memorial Hospital.

Sun staff writers Heather Dewar, Gary Dorsey, David L. Greene and Amy Oakes, and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/06/99

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