Clean-up efforts shift from snow to water Homeowners mop up after rain, quick thaw

January 21, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

First came the big dig out; now there's the huge mop-up.

Many Maryland homeowners who spent much of the past two weeks shoveling snow from the Blizzard of '96 off their driveways and sidewalks found Friday's high temperatures and rain a mixed blessing.

The conditions got rid of most of the remnants of the snow, but left many people with flooded basements.

"It was a complete washout," Rebecca Stutz said yesterday of the sloping basement of her home in Northwest Baltimore. Ms. Stutz said she had as much as 6 inches of water Friday at one end and 1 or 2 inches at the other.

"It's flooded off and on in the past, but that was the worst I've seen it," she said.

Ms. Stutz spent most of Friday bailing out her basement with a small utility pump.

"Now, we have to clean up the basement," she said.

In Northeast Baltimore, Shelby Muse spent part of Friday moving appliances and cleaning up pools of water in her basement.

"When I came home from work [Friday morning], I came down and saw it," said Ms. Muse, a private nurse.

She immediately bought a 10-gallon water vacuum cleaner for $50 to suck up the water.

"I'd have been forever using a mop," she said.

She was not the only one hastily buying equipment with which to clean up a flooded basement.

"The only thing we've got left is straws," Steve Liberto, a customer representative at Home Depot in Catonsville, said yesterday.

The problem with flooded basements has been twofold, said Barry Antonelli, president of B. Dry Systems of Pasadena.

Some houses with drainage systems were flooded when sump pumps overheated or burned out after working overtime to clear water from sublevels, he said.

Others are experiencing problems because extreme hydrostatic pressure is pushing water against basement walls and forcing it through small cracks.

"The ground is so saturated, the water has no place to go," Mr. Antonelli said. "It oozes up through the foundation."

He and other experts say downspouts damaged by recent storms can contribute to the problem by allowing water that normally would be funneled away from houses to pool along foundations.

Plumbers and companies specializing in waterproofing have been busy since Friday fielding calls from homeowners.

"No pun intended, we're swamped with calls," said Laure Thompson, co-owner of Thompson's Waterproofing Co. in Baltimore.

Jack Morgan of Apollo Plumbing in Hampden said his company charges $60 to $75 an hour, plus the cost of equipment, to pump flooded basements, with a typical charge running around $300.

Area governments were also responding to calls for assistance.

In Baltimore County, for example, the Fire Department pumps out homes where the water is sufficiently high to get into electrical outlets.

"We're worried about the hazard of water getting into the circuits," spokesman John Hunt said.

In Baltimore, crews yesterday afternoon had handled more than 250 calls and had a waiting list of 40, said public works Director George Balog.

Mr. Balog said crews would answer calls to the city's emergency 396-SNOW line regardless of the amount of water.

"My whole basement was flooded," said Yvonne Baker of East Baltimore, whose basement was pumped yesterday. "I was concerned about the water heater and my furnace."

For some homeowners, a long-term solution might prove to be expensive.

Gene Thompson of Dam Basement Waterproofing in Towson said an interior water removal system that collects water, then pumps it through a discharge pipe away from the house can cost $2,500.

Water damage to basements may be covered by homeowners' insurance policies, depending on the cause of the damage and the type of policy, said one local agent.

Most policies won't cover damage caused by water leaking through walls but will offer limited coverage caused by the breakdown of internal drainage systems, he said. Companies also offer additional coverage to damage caused by such breakdowns, he said.

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