Neighbors pitch in to help flood-ravaged Ellicott City homeowners

The Baltimore Sun
Gayle Killen's home sustained horrible damage. But her focus is on the rest of Ellicott City.

Volunteers hauling tools and food donations in wheelbarrows moved down Main Street in Ellicott City on Tuesday, bringing elbow grease and a measure of hope down the same path that devastating floodwaters took Saturday.

National attention has focused on the catastrophic damage in the town's historic business district, but for those who live on or near Main Street, Tuesday was a day to begin their long cleanup.

Dozens of people — many of them neighbors who live on higher ground — showed up spontaneously to help Main Street residents clean basements and living rooms, and help carry waterlogged and mud-covered possessions to the curb for dump trucks to pick up.

"Thanks for coming out," Main Street resident Gayle Killen called to a pair of volunteers after encouraging them to grab bottles of water before heading toward the damaged areas.

To another, she yelled: "Stay over-hydrated. Drink lots of water."

Outside her Main Street home, Killen had erected a tent stocked with water, Gatorade, fruit, granola bars, shovels and buckets.

Killen, 38, hardly had a moment to work on her own house, which was still surrounded by caution tape Tuesday. Floodwaters washed out gardens in front of her home and there was sewage in her basement, she said.

She didn't know whether her belongings were salvageable but said her immediate concern was for residents with more severe damage down the street.

"People need direction," said Killen, an Ellicott City resident for six years. "I know the direction."

The work to aid homeowners came as Howard County officials continued to remove cars from the Patapsco River and stabilize businesses so owners could enter to get personal belongings.

The county formally opened an assistance center where state and county agencies provided property owners with information and access to resources ranging from insurance to recovery of furniture and products.

Main Street remained closed to traffic, and Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman said there were still no damage estimates from the flash flooding. "We're not going to put up any timelines" on recovery, he added.

Kittleman guided Sen. Ben Cardin on a tour of the district, and the senator said Maryland's congressional delegation will press for federal aid to help the town. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working in the area already, he noted, and a request for aid from Gov. Larry Hogan is being processed.

"The entire country is watching Ellicott City and what happened here," Cardin said. "This is Main Street America."

Janet Decker and her son, Jack Averill, were among those who came to the downtown area Tuesday to help residents. Decker lives on Old Columbia Pike, high enough that she did not suffer any major damage, she said.

Her son had been on Main Street on Saturday night, working at Rumor Mill, a small pub on Tiber Alley.

"It was a particularly busy night, probably the busiest weekend in weeks," he said. The rain "went from a downpour to an emergency in less than 20 minutes." As the waters rose, the staff and guests had to evacuate to safety.

Both mother and son were shocked at the devastation, and joined those who came out Tuesday to help their neighbors.

Another volunteer, Jeffrey Honchar, carried supplies, debris and a chainsaw on a small John Deere tractor. An American flag was draped over the seat and "Eye of Tiger" played from speakers on the back.

Volunteers clearing backyards hardly paused from one residence to the next. Many said they did not know the homeowners they were there to help.

Many residents still were struggling with the magnitude of the flood damage. Tom Scott, 27, stood on the front porch of his Main Street home, overlooking a pile of mud-soaked furniture and household items that used to fill his home.

"It sucks right now, but when it comes down to it, stuff is stuff," he said. "My wife and I are safe."

He and his wife, Catherine, were out of town when they learned of the flood, and returned to find her gray Mazda just down the street, totaled. The force of the water broke through their basement doors and left 3 inches of mud.

"Anything that hadn't washed out of our basement was just sitting in a pile outside our back door," he said.

Strewn across the lawn were about 100 comic books, part of a collection of 4,000 that Scott called his "little crown jewel." The rest of the collection was destroyed, though he found one comic — a 1982 "Green Arrow" — down by Ellicott Mills Brewing Co., about a quarter-mile away.

"You have to take the small wins," Scott said. "Focus on the small wins, not the big loss."

Among those were the undamaged photos from their wedding in April. Another blessing, he said, were the surprise helpers, many of them complete strangers.

"The community is really coming together," said Scott, who does not have flood insurance.

Neither does neighbor Surinder Singh, 42, whose living room, kitchen, bathroom and basement were inundated by floodwaters. His family lost everything, he said, and is staying with a friend in Baltimore County.

On Tuesday, workers were scraping a layer of mud from his hardwood floors as a sump pump worked to remove standing water in the basement.

Nearby, Steve Diehl, 60, was clearing debris from under his porch. He said he has lived there his entire life and had sealed the front of his house along Main Street after previous experiences with Ellicott City floods. But that did not keep 3 feet of water from flooding his basement Saturday night.

"This was worse than any of the floods," he said as he tossed sticks onto a pile in the street.

Along with volunteers, others came Tuesday to drop off donations of food and other supplies. Many items were left at police barricades, then shuttled down to Killen's house to restock her tent.

Melissa Cornmin, 33, pulled up to the house in a truck carrying cases of water, Gatorade and granola bars that people had left with the police.

Killen was busy helping one volunteer exchange running shoes for a pair of boots and long socks that Killen had at the ready. Then her phone rang, and she was off to line up more donations and volunteers.

"What's beautiful about the crisis factor," she said, "is that it makes people aware."

wmassey@baltsun.com

How to help

The United Way of Central Maryland fund called ECStrong supports humanitarian relief for the victims. Text ECStrong to 51555 or go to uwcm.org/ecstrong

A food bank will open at 8 a.m. today at the Community Action Council of Howard County.

Donations for merchants and residents: HelpEllicottCity.com.

Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman urged a delay in donations of construction supplies because officials do not know yet what will be needed.

For more information, go to howardcountymd.gov.

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