Md. storms, floods kill at least 4 Threat of rains lingers today over much of the state

June 20, 1996|By Rafael Alvarez and Greg Tasker | Rafael Alvarez and Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Jay Apperson, Mary Gail Hare, Kathleen Hennelly, Mike Farabaugh, Ed Heard and Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

Lightning and flash floods -- some so severe they carried a mobile home down the side of a Frederick County mountain -- were blamed for at least four deaths in the wake of thunderstorms that have pelted Maryland since Monday.

Two of the deaths occurred yesterday evening on the swollen Patapsco River when two people were thrown from an inflatable raft after it went over the 6-foot high Union Dam about 2 miles west of Ellicott City, said a spokesman for the Howard County Fire and Rescue Squad.

More than 50 people were rescued in Frederick County, dozens were saved in Baltimore and at least 21 in Washington County, where a Hagerstown home was swept from its foundation.

More than a dozen inches of rain were reported in parts of Western Maryland -- about 5 1/2 inches in the Baltimore area -- and flood warnings remained in effect through 4 a.m. today.

Last night a new round of thunderstorms dropped 2 more inches of rain on Baltimore by 11 p.m., postponing the Orioles game and drenching the Olympic Torch Relay as it made its way along Calvert Street.

Thunderstorms that dropped an inch of rain an hour were reported by the National Weather Service over Montgomery and Howard counties about 10: 30 p.m. and were headed northeast toward western Howard County and Carroll County, where 2 1/2 inches of rain were expected by 12: 30 a.m.

With a glut of thunderstorms hovering over the state all week, Marylanders from the western counties to the Chesapeake Bay woke up to flooding and hard rains yesterday and can expect more today.

"Figure on another 24 hours of at least a threat of heavy storms before it dries out," said Brian G. Smith, a National Weather Service forecaster. Clear skies are not expected until tomorrow.

"We're stuck in this pattern," said Smith. "The air mass is very moist, moving slowly, and it doesn't take much to set it off. At this point, because so much rain has already fallen, even an ordinary thunderstorm could cause flash flooding. The ground just can't take any more and the larger streams can't handle the run off."

In Frederick County, a woman drowned and in Baltimore -- where the Smith Avenue bridge was closed and scores of people were evacuated in the face of a rising Jones Falls -- a construction worker died after being struck by lightning on a roof yesterday.

Orion James, 28, suffered a heart attack and was declared dead at Sinai Hospital at 1: 30 p.m.

In the Patapsco River incident, Lt. Ken Byerly of the Howard County Fire Department said Baltimore County rescuers recovered the body of a man from the river's bank about a mile from Oella about 5: 15 p.m.

He said about 8 p.m., the body of what is believed to be a female was found in the middle of the river about a mile west of where it passes under U.S. 40.

Byerly said the victims were probably taking advantage of the deep and swift water to go rafting but failed to appreciate the danger. "The river is about six times its normal depth right now and is extremely hazardous," he said.

Just southwest of Emmitsburg, the body of 36-year-old Karen D. Roman was found about a mile downstream from a water-covered bridge where she abandoned her car after leaving her job at the Cozy Restaurant in Thurmont about 11: 15 p.m. Tuesday. She was apparently swept from her car on a bridge over Little Owens Creek.

"This is about the worse I've ever seen it," said Lt. Cliff Shriner, a volunteer Emmitsburg firefighter who spent most of early yesterday helping rescue water-trapped motorists, pumping flooded basements and knocking on doors to evacuate dozens of town residents.

As much as 11 inches of rain fell on Emmitsburg, transforming gentle creeks into raging rivers that for a short time encircled the northern Frederick County community like a moat. All four main roads into the town were closed by flooding at one time.

Another volunteer firefighter said: "There was no way in and no way out."

"We had a couple of heroic rescues," said Mayor William Carr, who spent much of yesterday surveying damage around town. "It was a pretty dramatic night."

Kenny and Tracy Whitehair spent most of a sleepless night on the front porch of their log cabin home, watching a mountainside stream wash away a 12-foot section of their yard and carry debris, including an Airstream trailer from somewhere above them, down the hill.

"That mobile home just came moving by here," Tracy said. "It was really flying. I bet we had 4-foot waves coming down that hill. All the hedges we had planted alongside the stream are gone."

A state police helicopter airlifted a man from a car swamped on Emmitsburg's Main Street. In addition to struggling with flooding in their own town, Emmitsburg firefighters helped evacuate about 18 people who live along the Frederick County shore of the Monocacy River.

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