Hurricane Zelda full of mayhem Md. emergency system drills on 1933 disaster.

March 18, 1992|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Staff Writer

It's almost noon. Lake Roland Dam has already started to deteriorate. About 2,000 men, women and children in the area below the dam are being evacuated.

Others have been evacuated already. The state has issued a flash flood warning; three to four inches of rain are falling every hour.

The Maryland National Guard has been alerted and is standing by to quell looting that is expected in the evacuated areas of Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City. The damage from Hurricane Zelda already has surpassed $33 million.

This is only a drill.

The hurricane is a re-creation of what happened in 1933, when a severe storm ripped through Maryland. Still, the more than 40 men and women tracking Zelda at the state's Emergency Management Agency today in Pikesville are taking it very seriously.

Representatives of state agencies ranging from the Department of Aging to the health department and the Department of Natural Resources are sitting attentively in the darkened emergency operations center, eyes fixed on two large white screens, officially called "description boards."

On one, messages flash from the 25 smaller operations centers around the state: Antietam Creek is rising rapidly in Washington County. Livestock killed by the hurricane in Calvert County.

Officials call Hagerstown and warn of flooding.

A representative of the agriculture department phones a local contact with instructions for the animals' burial.

The other screen, which is supposed to flash maps showing the path of the hurricane, is blank. It's not working.

By 12:15, Lake Roland Dam has collapsed. Governor William Donald Schaefer is expected to declare a state of emergency in Maryland.

Officials scramble now to make provisions and will struggle for the rest of the day to minimize the damage.

At the end, Maryland will have a true assessment of its ability to respond to a real emergency.

Of course, this was only a drill.

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