Cataclysmic comparisons came quick and easy yesterday for business owners recovering from a torrent of water and mud that descended on a Lutherville shopping center.
"At its worst, it was like Niagara Falls," said Sheila Landers, manager of the Maytag Store in Yorkridge Shopping Center, part of which was slimed Saturday by a wall of cascading mud churned up by a broken water main on York Road.
Landers - who described the water as "nasty muddy" - and other business people on the shopping center's eastern perimeter were forced to plug their rear doorways with trash bags and whatever else came to hand in an effort to stop the treacly mess from seeping in. Some succeeded, some did not.
Yesterday, the task turned toward cleaning up, both inside some of the stores and in a parking lot behind them, where a Baltimore County Bureau of Utilities crew used bulldozers, excavators and a huge vacuum-cleaner truck to get rid of the mud, much of it now dried, caked and almost impenetrable in the heat.
On York Road, traffic near Ridgely Road was rerouted into single lanes in each direction as work proceeded on repairs to the 12-inch water main - completed at 3 a.m. yesterday - and to the other systems damaged by the rupture, such as storm drains and utility lines, as well as the road's surface. A black metal fence was also toppled by the grimy onslaught.
"That's the power of water," said Mark Green, an equipment operator on the county's utilities crew, as he shoveled mud away from a lamppost behind the shopping center. "This whole lot was covered in mud - the sloppy stuff."
By midmorning, Green said, at least 15 truckloads of mud, dirt and rocks had been hauled out of the parking lot. A considerable amount remained.
Inside Bruno's Hair Design, owner Greg Pitarra said that on Saturday he'd had to deal with a smaller problem, but a problem nonetheless. He borrowed from an employee's father a vacuum cleaner designed for scooping up water and went to work sucking up the mud seeping into the carpet at the back door. The machine, he said, wasn't really meant for that.
"I ruined it, so now I've got to buy him a new one," Pitarra said with a sigh. He also ruined about 50 white towels, now covered in mud, that he had placed against the door. Another of his employees, who also works as a plumber, tried using joint compound to seal the door, to no avail.
A representative of Schwaber Management, which runs the shopping center, later dispensed sandbags to some of the business owners, Pitarra said.
"I was petrified that I was going to have a mudslide in here," he said as he stood in his salon, where normality had returned and several customers were having their hair done. "If this had happened on Sunday, when we weren't here, we would have come in today to 2 or 3 inches of mud. I'm happy it wasn't worse, that we were here to intercept it."
Two doors down, at Games Workshop, Pitarra said, the owner had pumped out at least 250 gallons of water and mud from the rear of the business. The store was closed yesterday.
Walking outside, Pitarra pointed to the imprints of dried mud on the sidewalks where, unimpeded by the buildings, the torrent from the hill had left its mark. "It came flying through here," he said. "It looked like a stream."
Don Bass, who works for Pitarra as a hairdresser, said the water leak from the broken main "looked like a couple of fire hydrants turned on full-blast." Bass said anyone who had parked out back "scrambled to move their cars" and that he and others reached for their phones to call 911.
"The amazing thing was how long it took to get anyone out here," said Bass, who recalled phoning the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company and being told to call the county Fire Department, and being told by the county's emergency operator - accurately, as it turned out - that water-main breaks are handled by Baltimore City crews.
"I don't know who got called when," said Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works, which dispatched crews to shut off valves on the affected stretch of York Road and to assess the damage. "I think we responded in a reasonable amount of time. We don't have crews just waiting around for this to happen. They have to come from other jobs."
Crews dealt with several other water main breaks as well as clogged storm drains around the city, Kocher said.
The break in Lutherville, he said, caused an interruption of water service to four large businesses and 18 small ones, as well as to a pair of fire hydrants. It blew out part of a sidewalk and the asphalt thoroughfare, and sent debris and mud hurtling down a grass hill into the shopping center parking lot.
"This was a bit of a surprise for them, I'm sure," Kocher said. "It's going to be a quick flood when it's gushing like that. Even if you're standing right there, you're not going to get it fixed right away."