Inner Harbor restaurants, retail industry lose millions

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Isabel's tidal surge slapped business and industry along an intensely developed commercial swath lining Baltimore's Inner Harbor, causing millions of dollars in damage and leaving a mess likely to disrupt commerce for days or longer.

Restaurants, retailers and heavy industry suffered damage as the harbor's waters spilled over seawalls and into streets, flooding restaurants, stores, hotels and tourist attractions from Canton to Key Highway.

"It's been 18 years since I've been here and I've been through Gloria, Hugo, Andrew," said Doug Woods as he contemplated damage to his Fells Point restaurant, the Admiral's Cup. "This has been the most treacherous."

Isabel flooded the basement, where wine is kept on shelves and food is stored in three freezers and two walk-in refrigerators. Woods, who doesn't have flood insurance, said he expects the damage to reach about $50,000.

"Welcome to my nightmare," he said as he lifted a trapdoor to the basement. There was water to the brim.

It was the worst flooding of the city's waterfront neighborhoods in 70 years, and the severity caught many unprepared.

At the Power Plant on Pier Four south of Pratt Street, waves swept into the expansive ESPN Zone bar, with its banks of televisions and luxurious seating.

Just up Pratt, workers at the National Aquarium used tanks of oxygen to provide the aeration needed to keep valuable fish collections alive after floodwater fouled the aquarium's emergency generator.

"You have an hour before you start losing fish," said Mark Seely, senior director of capital planning and facilities.

Aquarium offices suffered water damage, and Seely said it might be Tuesday or Wednesday before the popular attraction reopens.

Across Pratt at Calvert Street, an inch of water covered the floor at the Legal Sea Foods restaurant.

Thanks to a generator, a shop vacuum, pump and a cleaning crew, the restaurant would probably be ready to open by today - but restaurant general manager James K. Connole fretted that the city Health Department might hold up the reopening.

A delay might cost "well over $100,000" in lost business, he said.

Inspections on the way

City Health Department officials yesterday estimated there were 500 businesses serving food in the flood zone along the harbor and said each one would be inspected.

Inspectors started their work early yesterday, intending to work through the weekend and nonstop until all the inspections are completed, said Monique Vinscon, public information officer for the city agency.

"Business owners want to stay in business ... and we're trying to keep people in their jobs, too," Vinscon said.

The Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel closed for an indefinite period yesterday afternoon because managers feared its emergency generator might give out after many hours of continuous operation.

Hotel managers scrambled to find 400 rooms in area hotels - some as far away as the airport - to accommodate its evacuated guests.

The hotel shipped a dinner for several hundred people along with chefs and servers to its Marriott sister, the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel.

"They can't give us any indication of when the power is going to come back on," said Paul Leader, director of event management. "We've been on generator since 2 a.m. [Friday]. If the water had risen another 6 to 9 inches, we would have started to see water come in. Hopefully, there's no structural damage."

The Harbor Court Hotel picked up 90 of those rooms, making up for some of the cancellations, said Werner Kunz, managing director of the hotel.

"We're helping them out," he said. "But we accommodate them at a much lower rate. You win some, and you lose some, but overall, it's not good for business."

The storm took the hotel from a sell-out weekend to an occupancy level of about 70 percent, he said.

Salty harbor water rose to within 2 feet of the Harbor Court entrance, and caused some excitement when about 4:30 a.m. yesterday a taxi driver mistakenly drove a hotel guest into water that came halfway over the cab.

The business traveler waded through waist-deep water with his luggage to get to a loading dock at the hotel. The taxi remained submerged through the afternoon.

Making light

Yesterday as kayakers, canoers and even bikers enjoyed the flooded streets downtown, the Capitol City Brewing Company in Harborplace's Light Street pavilion offered freshly brewed beer for a penny a glass.

"I grew up in Mississippi, and every September there were hurricanes," said Paul A. Pruitt, general manager. "It was like a festival. But this is a new experience for people here. I noticed people on the balcony. I thought it was cool, so I said, 'Let's give them a beer.' I did it just to see their smiles."

At one point, Benji Jenks, a cook at the adjacent Mangia Italian restaurant, gave slices of pizza to the crowds as they waited for high tide.

Rachel Macek used one of the Discovery Channel Ducks amphibious vehicles to complete her commute to work as a chef at the Pier 5 Hotel. The alternative was wading through waist-deep water to the hotel's front entrance.

"I can't believe it," she said. "I've never seen anything like this before in my life. You see pictures on TV of other places that look like this."

There were still guests inside the hotel, although two weddings planned for yesterday had been canceled, she said.

At the Power Plant, three feet of water on the promenade left the Hard Rock Cafe, Barnes & Noble and ESPN Zone closed. By 2 p.m. yesterday, the water had started to recede.

Power Plant managers said the damage had been isolated to the ESPN Zone and other attractions could reopen as early as today.

"There was minimal damage," said Blake L. Cordish, vice president of the Cordish Co.

The owners of Captain James Crab House in Canton couldn't get the front door of their restaurant open yesterday because so much water had seeped inside. Co-owner Vasilious Tserkis was soaked to the chest, having waded into the water to retrieve patio furniture and an ice chest.

Water was still waist-high in the parking lot. "We don't know how much damage there is, but we think everything is probably destroyed," Tserkis said. "There's probably crabs floating around inside."

Almost all of the businesses in Fells Point along Thames and Aliceanna streets, where the water was knee-deep in places, never opened yesterday. One sign at a store on Broadway read "Closed Today. You Know Why - Isabel."

Restaurants faced with power outages tried to figure out ways to save food, while other business owners wondered how long they could survive without profits coming in.

At Maggie Moo's, at the corner of Broadway and Thames, general manager Kelly Holman was trying to figure out how to keep 150 gallons of ice cream from melting.

She couldn't find enough dry ice, so she traded her water pump for a generator from a business owner down the street. A neighboring delicatessen let her store cakes and ice cream in its refrigerator.

Holman said she still expected to lose $10,000 in sales and melted ice cream because the generator could power only part of the store.

"I don't even want to think about it," she said.

Keeping things cool

Dry ice was generally in short supply, in part because one city producer of the precious post-hurricane commodity was without power for nine hours yesterday, a Pepco spokesman said.

Nicholas Johnson, the owner of Su Casa, a furniture store on Thames Street, was waiting for the water to recede from the parking lot of his warehouse on Aliceanna between Washington and Boston streets to see how bad the damage was.

At one point the water was so high, a rescue boat was riding around the parking lot. He went to the warehouse earlier in the morning to turn off the electricity and found sofas floating around like boats.

He expects to lose 70 percent to 80 percent of his inventory to water damage - a value of $80,000 to $90,000.

"It's disastrous," Johnson said. "Nobody would have expected this."

After the power failed at 4 a.m., about a dozen employees at the Safeway in Canton worked through the morning to load frozen goods onto two refrigerator trucks. Their quick action saved the merchandise - a generator arrived later in the day.

"It takes a lot more time putting it all back than it does pulling it out," said Patti Hutchinson, the store's general manager.

Rising storm surge threatened to flood the store's parking lot in the morning, but the water kept its distance and Hutchinson was able to open by early afternoon.

The Whole Foods store at Inner Harbor East was less fortunate. About five feet of water flooded the grocery store's loading docks and threatened to spill into the store before receding later in the morning.

"There were people canoeing on the street in back of us earlier," said Joe Flueckiger, the store's team leader.

Factory shutdown

Heavy industry along the waterfront slowed to a crawl as water flowed across piers, flooded access roads and made it difficult for employees to reach work. The General Motors assembly plant on Broening Highway was shuttered for the day.

"Employees reported, but with all the issues impacting the community, the suppliers; just after eight o'clock this morning, we released the first shift," said Dan Flores, a spokesman for the plant.

The storm also closed GM's assembly plant in Wilmington, Del. Both plants will return to normal production Monday.

Power was cut off at the Amerada Hess Corp. terminal on the south side of the harbor in Curtis Bay, forcing the company to rely on a generator to power pumps used for loading fuel trucks.

"We deliver fuel to industry, hospitals and schools," said plant Manager Hannis Duck. "A lot of them needed fuel for their back-up generators."

More than a foot of water flowed over the company's dock, further disrupting operations.

"Never seen that happen before," Duck said.

Sun staff writers William Patalon III and Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.

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