For 38 years, Dan Broadwater and his wife, Kay, have lived in a house off Frederick Road in Catonsville with no major building or infrastructure issues.
But that streak changed for the couple in two hours when a record rainfall of more than 10 inches on Sunday caused deadly flash flooding throughout the region, especially in historic Ellicott City in Howard County, where one man died, and also in Baltimore County, particularly in Oella and Catonsville.
A failed storm drain on the Broadwaters’ street overflowed, water rushed down their driveway, through the yard with the force of the water pushing through the garage to the basement. It blew out the back wall and damaged the foundation of an addition on the home.
Their backyard was flooded, the gate of the backyard fence was cracked, and the boiler, water heater and furnace were damaged.
“I just thought, ‘what is happening,’ it was shocking,” said Kay Broadwater. “It just didn’t seem normal. It seemed surreal, almost like an out-of-body experience.”
As the water was forcing open their garage door and the basement wall collapsed, the Broadwaters said it sounded like someone was breaking into their house.
“When I started leaning out windows and seeing what was really happening, I was shocked. I saw the side of my house was ripped apart, it was sticking out,” Dan Broadwater said. “When I went out the front, I thought about what I could do to stop the water, but then I realized I couldn’t even get out of the house because the water was up to my porch.”
Licensed contractor Kwangsoo Jeon, a friend of the family, rushed to Home Depot and bought about 20, 2-foot by 4-foot pieces of lumber to install a temporary support wall.
“I knew that there was an addition that was built over the bearing wall on the main floor … so I made sure that I had the house supported enough to the point where the floor wouldn’t collapse,” Jeon said in an email, translated from Korean through his daughter.
The next day, on Monday, the structure was deemed uninhabitable by Baltimore County Fire Department Division Chief Thomas Ramey because the load-bearing wall had collapsed and the new, temporary support wall was not up to county standards. A sign was posted at the house declaring “this building is unsafe” and that occupancy was prohibited.
As of May 31, the Broadwaters’ home was the only house in the Baltimore County deemed unsafe and could not be occupied.
Sunday night, the Broadwaters stayed in their home; nobody from the county had yet told them the building was unsafe and Jeon had kept it from collapsing beneath their feet.
The next morning the fire department told the couple that the the building was uninhabitable. Since then, Kay and Dan Broadwater, whose son, Luke Broadwater, is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, have been staying with friends and family at night and going through the damage during the day.
“Literally, Sunday night, Kwangsoo held up our house,” Kay Broadwater said. “He’s a hero in the whole thing.”
Other homes in the Catonsville area suffered flooding, too. Crews from the fire department and Department of Public Works assisted in pumping water out of about 400 homes. Fire crews responded to “dozens” of water rescues, according to county officials.
Additionally, four roads remain closed from rain and flood damage: Winchester Avenue, Old Frederick Road, Thistle Road and River Road. County officials said they expect the roads to remain closed “for some time.”
Some parts of Catonsville Elementary School flooded, but classes began on time Tuesday, May 29. Monday was a holiday.
With storms returning to the region, and looking ahead to the potential for more wet summer months, county officials are urging caution, especially when dealing with the potential for rushing water.
“Our Department of Public Works crews and fire and police responders are ready to assist with whatever Mother Nature throws us,” County Executive Don Mohler said in a statement. “We encourage neighbors to continue to check in on their neighbors.”
As water was still entering the house, Kay Broadwater says she called their insurance group, USAA, to try and file a claim. An adjuster visited the house Wednesday.
Dan Broadwater said his calls with his insurance company, USAA, have given him “no reason for hope,” because the couple do not have a flood insurance policy.
Rich Johnson, a spokesman for USAA, said the company can’t speak on specific claims due to privacy concerns. But, he said, “We do look at all claims on their own individual merits, and we will work with our members through the claims process.”
The Broadwaters said they think they may have a case with the county because it appeared to them that the flooding in their home would not have been as severe had the county storm drain on their street not overflowed. On Tuesday, the Broadwaters called the Baltimore County Claims Management office and gave an oral interview. They’re waiting for the office to mail them a claims form.
Lauren Watley, a county spokeswoman, said any county resident can file a claim through that office if the homeowner believes the county is at fault.
Each claim filed to the county is investigated and evaluated by the county, she said. The county pays out if it is found to be at fault for injury or property damage.
She said a resident has three years to complete the claims process and that there is no maximum amount the county would pay out if it was found to be at fault. Compensation is relative to the claim, she said.
Watley added that anyone who feels they need assistance after the storm, either with food or temporary shelter, can call the county at 410-887-2222.
County Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville, Oella and the neighborhood where the Broadwaters live, said on his Facebook page that Baltimore County is working with Howard County on the possibility of federal or state aid for flood victims.
In a statement, Gov. Larry Hogan said on May 30, “I have directed the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to work closely with regional representatives from FEMA to seek all available assistance to support our public safety partners and our citizens who were affected as they work to rebuild.”
In the meantime, Baltimore County is offering free debris pickup for residents who have been affected by the flood and will come to the property to remove it. Residents need to call 410-887-3560.
Residents can also take their debris to a temporary drop-off center at the Benjamin Banneker Historical Center and Park, at 300 Oella Ave. from May 30 to June 8. The temporary drop-off site will be staffed from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
‘We have our faith’
The Broadwaters have had to remove carpet, drywall, insulation, hundreds of pounds of documents, materials and mementos from their waterlogged basement, but they haven’t gone at it alone.
In addition to the emergency assistance the family got Sunday night from Jeon and the visit from the county to evaluate the building, the Broadwaters received house calls from at least two dozens friends and neighbors Monday who helped them clear out damaged property and get what was salvageable to a dry place.
“Obviously it’s a tough thing to see,” said Ben Nichols, a contractor who knows the Broadwaters through Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church, where Dan Broadwater was pastor for more than 30 years before retiring in May 2017.
Nichols said he and his father went and helped with the “grunt work” the Monday after the storm, carrying wet and damaged material to dumpsters while Jeon did “the technical work” of making sure the structure was temporarily secure.
“Dan is one of those awesome guys that is just always thinking about other people first, and the same is true with Kay,” Nichols said. “They’ve spent a career helping other people. It was nice to be able to give back to them.”
Pam Smith and her husband Ray, who live on the same block as the Broadwaters, showed up to help, too. Smith had worked as Dan’s administrative assistant at the church for the last two years before he retired.
“They would do anything for anybody and always have their whole life,” she said. “It was basically a no-brainer decision. Everybody just rallied” to provide food, assistance and moral support.
Between having lost so much from the flood and from some recent family emergencies, including the recent death of a relative, Kay Broadwater said she was beginning to feel a bit like they were living out the biblical story of Job, who lost everything as a test of his faith.
“We have our faith, which keeps us from feeling despair,” Kay Broadwater said. “We don’t feel a sense of despair.”
This story has been updated.
Baltimore Sun staff contributed to this article.