Torrential storms pushed swollen streams over their banks in the Baltimore region over the weekend, causing two deaths and major damage in Ellicott City and tearing up businesses in the Woodberry section of Baltimore.
Early Monday the clean-up efforts were well underway as trucks with heavy equipment and police cruisers streamed down Ellicott Mills Drive onto Ellicott City’s historic Main Street, each vehicle followed by a cloud of dirt.
Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford, who lives in Howard County, was there early Sunday after the storm and was back again Monday. He described the scene as “something out of a Hollywood movie.”
He said cars were overturned and some were piled on top of others. Still, clean-up crews had made some progress, he said.
“You don’t have all the cars that were down here on the side and some of the debris that was off on the side,” he said. “It’s out of the streets now. And this parking lot over here, there were cars that were strewn all over and are not there now.”
Before heading back to his office in Annapolis, Rutherford spoke with Jane Johnson, who owns the Judge’s Bench pub on Main Street.
She said the last flood in Ellicott City, after Tropical Storm Lee five years ago, was bad enough. But she has never seen anything like this, pointing to “actual structural damage.”
“It’s a total devastation of some of the buildings and the flood waters probably got up a little bit higher.”
Johnson, who owns the tavern with her husband, was told there was some minor flooding near the tavern’s entrance at the bottom of a landing Saturday and she used a sump pump to clear some of the water. That’s when customers noticed the rushing water outside.
“People then started to go to the front,” she recalled, “to the windows and then step outside to watch the lake that was really rushing through the street.”
News of the flooding even reached her husband who’s been overseas on a business trip.
“I didn’t tell him anything, but I guess it was about 11:00, I get a text from him and it says ‘what’s happening there?’” she said.
“And then I knew that something had flagged him. I don’t know if he had saw anything on the news in Scotland or if it was family members who were emailing or texting him, forgetting he was overseas, asking how we were.”
While Johnson’s tavern weathered the flood, other businesses didn’t.
Megan Clark, who was in the process of closing Ellicott City Toyland, said the sidewalk in front of the building was gone, along with the window. And then, there was “a huge tree that came through the back so it took down the third floor all the way down to the first floor.”
Officials said of the 200 properties they had inspected, 20 to 30 suffered severe damage and four or five were destroyed.
Clark said she hopes the other businesses are able to reopen and that people will patronize them once again.
“It’s important; come down here, support small businesses.” She said. “Ya know? That’s what we run off of. That’s how we support our families; it’s from all the locals down here helping.
Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman toured the area again Monday morning and returned later with Senator Barbara Mikulski. He said he was working on plans to help Ellicott City recover.
He said he’s been busy, “running around dealing with issues of what’s next for Ellicott City; between the planning of debris removal; between shoring up buildings, between allowing for individuals to have business or properties to see their properties.”
But, he said, it will be months before things get back to normal.
In Woodberry, the Jones Falls surged over its banks Saturday and gushed, several feet deep, through businesses at Meadow Mill.
Muddy water spilled along the parking lot Monday as employees of local businesses filled dumpsters with wet trash and sprayed down dirt-covered merchandise and equipment. Leaves and branches cluttered the area, poking out of the front grills of several cars. Inside, giant fans air-dried the wet mess.
“We got about three inches of rain over the span of two hours, and the river went completely insane,” said Brian Arnold, co-owner of Nepenthe Homebrew, a local beer and wine homebrew supply store.
Arnold, who has spent the past two days cleaning up mounds of mud and debris, said the water “rose about 13 feet, jumped through our parking lot and just kind of obliterated our shop.”
A friend who works at a bar down the street contacted Arnold during the storm and suggested he check out the damage. When Arnold arrived, the police had closed off the area for safety reasons. He and his wife, co-owner Jill Antos, couldn’t get into the store until Sunday.
He said they found “just complete and absolute chaos” and a water line about five feet up the walls.
Some inventory had floated to a new spot undamaged, but most items didn’t weather the storm well.
“Everything is covered in mud,” he said. “Everything is sopping wet. It smells awful.”
They carry a lot of malted grains “to make beer, so all of that smells like a brewery the first day,” he said.
“The second day it smells like wild fermentation. The third day it smells like feces, which is, we're almost there right now.”
This isn’t the first time Antos and Arnold have dealt with flooding in shop. Nepenthe Homebrew suffered damage from another severe storm in 2014. Last time, local community members and nearby businesses helped fundraise, clean and even re-stock inventory.
Over the last 24 hours, they have raised more than $8,000 from a GoFundMe page. Now comes the cleanup.
“We've got to clear everything out,” Arnold said. “We've got to photograph everything; separate salvage from garbage. Then we've got to clean the space out.”
With the last flood, Arnold and Antos received an outpouring of support from loyal customers, which actually helped business despite setbacks from the damage. Arnold said he hopes for a similar silver lining this time around.