Rain came, rain coming

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hundreds of people were being urged to leave their homes in North Laurel late last night as heavy rains prompted the opening of floodgates on the neighboring Rocky Gorge Dam - the most recent problem for Marylanders soaked by a storm system stalled across much of the East Coast.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission alerted the city to the imminent opening of five of the dam's seven floodgates to lower the level of the reservoir, which would cause water to rise downstream and likely flood a stretch of the Patuxent River along the border of Howard and Prince George's counties.

While rainfall last night was much less than fell Sunday in most areas, the runoff into streams and rivers was growing - and people whose homes were inundated over the weekend were trying to recover and clean up the mess.

In the Eastern Shore town of Federalsburg, the mess included brown water oozing out of the living room carpet of Jackie Sharpley's two-story home. Flies swarmed in a room that smelled like a wet wool sweater.

"The whole downstairs completely has to be replaced because of mold and water damage," she said. "Everything just stinks. It stinks."

Sharpley and her friend Vaughn Summers had fans roaring and the air conditioning turned as high as it would go as they tried to dry out their home - hoping to take advantage of a narrow window between the weekend deluge and the renewed soaking predicted for today and the rest of the week.

Sharpley and Summers were two of the many Marylanders trying to dry out after hurricane-level rains - minus the wind - raked across Maryland beginning Sunday.

Intermittent downpours continued to pelt the saturated state throughout yesterday - contributing to one highway fatality in Prince George's County, disrupting train travel, flooding communities, knocking out phones and power, felling trees and closing roads throughout the region.

In Laurel, an emergency shelter was opened at the town community center and emergency officials set up a watch along U.S. 1 at the Patuxent to monitor the river. City spokesman Jim Collins said early today that the city would not know how much water is coming for several hours.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had sent damage assessment teams to Caroline and Dorchester counties to see whether the area might qualify for federal disaster assistance.

The lone death linked to the storms occurred about 4 p.m. near Bowie, when a car driven by 43-year-old Mary Leslie Griffin hydroplaned in the wet westbound lanes of U.S. 50 near Route 197, overturned and hit a median guardrail, said state police Cpl. Mark Cummings.

Griffin, of Silver Spring, was pronounced dead at the scene, he said.

The National Weather Service warned that the coming days could bring more flooding as rivers top their banks. The next day without a thunderstorm in the local forecast: Monday.

The persistent rains are the result of what Accuweather.com meteorologist John Gresiak called "an atmospheric traffic jam" caused by a high-pressure system immobilized over the Atlantic "like a jack-knifed tractor-trailer." Behind it is stuck a low-pressure system that just keeps raining and raining in a band running from Maine to Florida.

Gresiak said it's the kind of weather event that occurs about once or twice a decade.

That's about once or twice too often for Sharpley, who said she went to bed Saturday night without a drop of rain falling and awoke Sunday to the sound of emergency workers warning her and her neighbors to evacuate their low-lying neighborhood near Marshyhope Creek.

She and Summers were able to return by late afternoon and found that rain had flooded the crawl space and seeped through the first-floor carpet.

"Water bugs, critters of all sorts, just came in," she said.

The weather system that drenched this Caroline County town is creating havoc up and down the East Coast. Maryland is right at the center of the action, with recorded 24-hour rainfall exceeding 10 inches in at least one location. Many parts of the state received a month's worth of rain in a day.

The result was a transportation nightmare. Dozens of state roads and countless local roads were closed by flooding.

Dave Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said the storm's effect on road travel would be 9 on a scale of 10.

"It's equivalent to when a hurricane comes through in terms of road impact," he said.

In Baltimore, some streets were closed by flooding early yesterday but most were open by rush hour, according to city Transportation Department spokesman David Brown.

Brown said the Jones Falls topped its banks in places - flooding out parts of Clipper Mill Road and Union Avenue - but then receded. He said that while the stream's waters got close to the Jones Falls Expressway, the JFX didn't need to be closed.

The disruption extended to rail travel. In Washington, parts of which received about 7 inches of rain over 24 hours, Metro service disruptions sent hundreds of morning rush hour commuters into the streets to catch shuttle buses or walk to their offices on a muggy, overcast morning.

MARC train service on the Camden and Brunswick lines was canceled for both the morning and evening commutes yesterday because of downed trees, flooding, signal problems and stopped freight trains on the CSX-owned tracks. Service on the Amtrak-owned Penn line operated on a modified schedule.

The Maryland Transit Administration said MARC service was expected to be back to normal today - subject to any serious impact from more heavy rains during the night.

According to Cheryl Stewart, a spokeswoman for Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, there were scattered delays and cancellations of incoming flights yesterday into the evening. And passengers arriving early yesterday encountered hours-long delays finding ground transportation.

The flooding problems were compounded by a large number of trees falling across roads and railroad tracks. In Washington, where several government agencies closed yesterday, a 100-year-old elm fell on the White House lawn during the storm.

"The ground is so saturated now it's not going to take much wind" to knock over a tree, Buck said. "It just uproots it."

Falling trees were also a factor in many of the power outages that affected tens of thousands of Marylanders. Linda J. Foy, a spokeswoman for BGE, said about 69,000 customers had been affected by outages as of yesterday afternoon - though most of them had already had service restored. She said the utility expects the problems to continue at least through tomorrow.

Similar problems were affecting phones. Christy Reap, a spokeswoman for Verizon, said calls reporting service problems were running at about double normal levels.

The National Weather Service's highest 24-hour precipitation reading in Maryland as of yesterday morning came in Hyattsville, where boats had to be used to evacuate almost 70 residents over the weekend. More than 10 inches of rain were recorded in that Prince George's County town.

In Dorchester County, farmer Jimmy Goslee said he has never seen any weather like that of the past few days. "My rain gauge only measures up to 6 inches, and it ran over and kept running over," he said. "I'd guess we had 9 or 10 inches."

In Galestown, the flooding left a 30-foot-wide hole in a road. Town Councilman James Sullivan stood at the edge of the crater, watching as untold gallons of water surged from an old mill pond and through the hole.

There's now only one way in and one way out of the hamlet of 60 houses and 100 residents - adding 30 minutes of travel for Sullivan and other commuters.

"We are definitely cut off, and we're going to stay cut off, from the way things look," he said.

Reports of heavy flooding sent some mayors and town officials who had been attending this week's Maryland Municipal League convention in Ocean City back home.

Adam Ortiz, mayor of Edmonston in Prince George's County, left the gathering along with most members of that town's council, said Tracy Farrish, the only council member to remain.

"The town is in a flood zone, and the pumping station wasn't working properly," she said.

Throughout the region, government officials urged motorists to avoid driving into moving water. In Anne Arundel County, officials reported seven water rescues involving vehicles since Sunday - one a near-drowning.

Problems weren't limited to flooding. Lightning struck a $1.2 million Cooksville home Sunday evening, starting an attic fire that quickly engulfed the 5,300-square-foot house.

The home is in a rural part of western Howard County that lacks municipal water or sewer systems.

William Mould, a spokesman for the Howard County fire and rescue department, said firefighters from Howard, Montgomery and Carroll counties "intermittently" ran out of water but were able to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby homes. No one was injured.

In Harford County, the storm prompted a voluntary evacuation of weekend cabins beside Broad Creek in the Darlington area.

Most of the owners of the several hundred cabins had already left for the start of the workweek, said Darlington Volunteer Fire Company Chief Sam Sauers. When firefighters knocked on doors about 7 a.m. to warn residents about the high water, they found about a dozen people preparing to leave, Sauers said.

"They were already packed up when we arrived," he said. "They know what can happen."

At the nearby Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation, the lake reached 4 feet above its high-water mark about 6:30 a.m. yesterday, said Ranger Dave Weissert. The Cub Scouts spending the week at the camp were playing rainy-day games and singing songs to make the best of the soggy weather.

"We're drying a lot of socks and sleeping bags," said Weissert. "But we're still having fun."

michael.dresser@baltsun.com annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Chris Guy, Laura Barnhardt, Melissa Harris, John Woestendiek, Nia-Malika Henderson, Beth Hughes, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Tyrone Richardson contributed to this article.

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