After the snowfall, the deluge Frightening floods: Evacuations save lives, but not inundated homes and businesses.

January 23, 1996

ALL THAT JANUARY snow and ice had to go somewhere, and so it did, gorging the Susquehanna, Ohio and Potomac rivers, surging over the banks and flooding thousands of homes in their paths.

Complaints about the piled-up mountains of snow turned to fears of flooding from melted snowpack, in the wake of sunny 60s weather and stiff winds over the weekend that rapidly turned the frozen stuff into swiftly flowing liquid. Not since the widespread ravages of Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 had Maryland experienced such awesome floods.

Fortunately, the raging floods did not bring death to Marylanders. Timely evacuations of communities in Western Maryland, the Washington area and Cecil County and rescues by boat were able to save lives. Despite a 14-foot cresting of the Potomac, residents were able to escape the river's lethal wrath.

The greatest impact in this region was the evacuation of 700 residents from Port Deposit, which was assaulted by the rapidly rising waters of the swollen Susquehanna that gushed through floodgates of the Conowingo Dam.

The sudden opening of the 39 floodgates by PECO Energy Co. angered townspeople, who claimed to be without sufficient warning of the certain flood. The hydroelectric power plant operator explained that the release was necessary to prevent the dam from cracking, that the procedure was not different from past incidents. In any case, it underlines the imperative for close communication between the dam and town in such emergencies.

Damage was heaviest at Port Deposit's new riverfront condominium complex of Tome's Landing, which represents the best hope for economic revitalization of the aging Cecil County community. Its exposure to the flood was facilitated by an exemption from state Critical Areas shoreline restrictions, because the 100 homes were built on a former manufacturing site that preceded the law. Flood insurance will pay for much of those losses.

Pumping, digging and scraping out from the flood will take time. Property damages are extensive. Gov. Parris N. Glendening will include flood damages in his plea for federal aid for blizzard relief, even as state and local governments are pressed to find money to pay for their efforts responding to these extraordinary natural disasters. It's a one-two punch from the weather that we are still trying to deal with.

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