Baltimore homes condemned just before Thanksgiving

Falita Liles marked Thanksgiving eve by inviting some of her best friends to what could be grimly described as a condemnation party.

The Upper Fells Point resident hauled possessions out of her tiny historic rowhouse Wednesday, after a city inspector ordered it vacated because an unexplained water flow had undermined the foundation.

"You can see I'm not real thrilled right now," she said.

Liles' home was one of two condemned in the 200 block of South Madeira St., an alley street of roughly century-old homes near Patterson Park. She pointed out the spot where the inspector told her the house had sunk by 2 to 3 inches overnight, causing cracks in the foundation and a gap in the glass-brick basement window.

Residents of the block said they have been complaining to the city for about seven weeks because of an unexplained flow of water along the narrow street. Some feared the damage would spread.

"I'm very disappointed with the city because we've been screaming and hollering at so many people," said Liles, a seven-year resident who chose to live in Baltimore and commute to Washington.

Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, said workers had yet to find the source of the problem but had determined that it was groundwater because of the presence of algae. He ruled out a main break or a spill of sewage or drinking water.

Liles, whose gas had just been shut off and whose front door would no longer shut, was less than satisfied with the explanation.

"A house condemned is not minor groundwater," she said.

As she wondered where she would stay and waited to hear from her insurance company, Liles received some help from several couples, including neighborhood residents Howard and Terri Ehrenfeld, who were moving her essential items into their own home.

Terri Ehrenfeld said the flood wasn't just disrupting Liles' Thanksgiving. "We didn't expect to have our dining room filled with belongings the day before Thanksgiving dinner."

Wayne Marcinko, known to neighbors as Madeira Street's unofficial mayor, said he hadn't seen such a problem in the more than 35 years he's lived there. Marcinko said his house had been spared but that some of his neighbors' sump pumps had been gushing every 21/2 minutes around the clock in recent weeks.

There was no sinkhole visible, but Marcinko said he had seen a large hole in the basement of 241 S. Madeira, the first house to be condemned. He said the owner of that building had been forced to move his tenants out.

Residents of the block, which was closed to traffic Wednesday, were getting attention from the city. Councilman Jim Kraft, a Democrat who represents Southeast Baltimore, stopped by and made calls to public works officials on their behalf.

Art Shapiro, division chief of utility maintenance, stopped by soon after to do his own inspection. He promised the city would conduct a series of scans of the pipes in the area.

Sitting on the steps of her ruined home, Liles was not consoled.

"I feel very abandoned by the city," she told Shapiro.

A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the neighborhood where the condemned homes are located.

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