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Sun shines again, but perils linger

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When the sun finally emerged yesterday after nearly a week of rain that drenched Maryland, leaving at least four people dead and two missing, it brought relief for some communities but agonizing waits in others where residents were told that the worst flooding might not come until early tomorrow.

Much of the damage had been done, with heavy rain - up to 13 inches in some areas - blamed for downed trees, washed-out roads and flooded houses.

The toll included three people swept from the back of a pickup truck by floodwaters outside Myersville in Frederick County and two boys who were missing and feared drowned in Little Pipe Creek on the Frederick-Carroll County border.

The rising Susquehanna River threatened a number of towns, including Port Deposit and Havre de Grace, where people started to move belongings to higher ground yesterday.

There was also a danger that the Potomac River from Williamsport southeast into Georgetown might overflow, though not as severely.

Two shelters opened in Montgomery County as more than 2,200 people who live near Lake Needwood were told to evacuate when cracks were found in the earthen dam that holds the reservoir. A shelter set up Tuesday in Anne Arundel County was closed as the Patuxent River receded.

Still, much of Central Maryland was spared the worst.

"Things are starting to get better, obviously, because the weather is starting to get better," said Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. But "it depends on where you are," he said.

Along the Susquehanna, McDonough said, people need only look at the flooding in New York and Pennsylvania - where up to 200,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the Wilkes-Barre area - to see what is possible downriver in Port Deposit. Eight other storm-related deaths have been reported in nearby states, one in Virginia, four in Pennsylvania and three in New York.

Over the past several days, the storm dropped totals ranging from 4 inches in Bowie and Severn to 13 inches in Hyattsville in Prince George's County, according to National Weather Service statistics.

More than 10 inches fell in Columbia and in Bowleys Quarters in eastern Baltimore County. By contrast, 2 inches fell in the Baltimore region in September 2003 during Tropical Storm Isabel, which caused major flooding because of its high winds coupled with high tides.

Volunteers from the Susquehanna Hose Company made four rescues overnight in the Havre de Grace area using a 15-foot Zodiac swift-water boat. Among those saved were a child who was sucked through a drain pipe and popped out the other end, and a man who had climbed a tree after his vehicle got stuck in water, they said.

With the Fourth of July weekend approaching, authorities are worried about the number of boaters who are expected to take to the Chesapeake Bay and the state's many other waterways.

The upper bay, with the release of water from the Susquehanna's Conowingo Dam, will be swollen and filled with debris, creating dangerous conditions for boaters and anglers.

"Use common sense," said Maryland Natural Resources Police Sgt. Ken Turner. "By all means, stay off the Susquehanna River and then by extension this weekend the upper bay and its tributaries. It's going to keep up all the way into next week."

Such warnings didn't stop kayakers at Great Falls National Park, who saw the roaring waters of the Potomac River yesterday morning as a fantastic challenge.

Paddlers Hendrick Booz and Erin Quigley set out on the Potomac on two boats about a mile below Great Falls, a cataract where the river crashes into a stony gorge. They had been tracking the flow all week, calling an automated river gauge maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey and hoping for the most exciting ride possible.

As they maneuvered through rapids and half-submerged trees, Booz and Quigley were surrounded by debris and trash that had been swept into the river. "We saw like a 25-foot tree floating in front of us," Quigley said.

Near Rockville, about 50 workers were trying to contain leaks in the Lake Needwood Dam hours after residents below it were evacuated.

About 150 police officers and fire officials had gone door to door telling people in about 500 apartments and 700 homes to pack up and leave. Some were given several hours' notice, but others had minutes to pack up medicines and overnight bags. Two high schools were set up as shelters.

Most heeded the warnings, but 99 people refused to leave their homes, said Montgomery County spokeswoman Donna Bigler. No one could say when the evacuees would be allowed to return.

"I don't want to be staying here," said Senait G Amlak, who, with two young children, left her apartment shortly before 4 a.m. for the shelter at Wheaton High School. "I want to go home as soon as possible."

Natasha Sims fled with her 11-year-old daughter but was allowed to return late yesterday afternoon to pick up more clothes. "To be perfectly honest," she said, "I didn't know there was a dam."

At the 45-year-old dam, water was bubbling through at seven places yesterday morning and engineers were covering the holes with a "gravel blanket," a tarpaulin covered with sand and gravel that they hope will be heavy enough to prevent the water from coming though.

Engineers were constructing a device to measure the water coming though the dam to determine whether the flow was increasing or decreasing. The reservoir's water level was stable yesterday at 22 feet above what is considered normal.

"It's not getting better, but it's not getting worse," said Michael S. Riley, an engineer with the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. "I'm not seeing an imminent danger of the dam failing."

Many of the places hit hardest in the earliest days of the storms were spared as the rain wound down early yesterday. The Eastern Shore, which bore the brunt of the weekend weather, did not report new damage.

Floodwaters along the Patuxent River in Laurel began to recede rapidly yesterday, leaving only two parking lots near U.S. 1 with a few feet of water in them.

Most of the roads that had been impassable earlier in the week reopened yesterday. MARC train lines were expected to be running normally this morning after stalled freight trains on the CSX-owned tracks forced the closing of the Brunswick line yesterday and flooding prompted speed restrictions on the Camden line.

In Port Deposit and Havre de Grace, along the banks of the Susquehanna, longtime residents said they weren't too worried about flooding yet. But as word spread that officials at Conowingo Dam upriver were planning to open as many as 26 floodgates by tomorrow morning to deal with storm runoff, some residents started moving sailboats, cars and antiques to places where they would be safe. And those who didn't take action were starting to talk about it.

"When there's a flood report, you start taking everything from the first floor and moving it to the second floor," said Kim Dooling, 39, of Port Deposit. "This is life on the river. You get used to it."

stephanie.desmon@baltsun.com

Contributors

Sun reporters Sandy Alexander, Lynn Anderson, Anica Butler, Laura Cadiz, Stephanie Desmon, Michael Dresser, Chris Emery, Justin Fenton, Nicole Fuller, Melissa Harris, Nia-Malika Henderson, Ron Hollander, Josh Mitchell, Annie Linskey, Jennifer McMenamin, Dennis O'Brien, Frank D. Roylance, Nick Shields and Candus Thomson contributed to coverage of the storms and flooding.

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