Howard roads, bridges flooded drivers rerouted

More rain expected after 5 1/2 inches fall since Monday

June 20, 1996|By Ed Heard and Kathleen B. Hennelly

A storm that has dumped about 5 1/2 inches of rain on the area since Monday flooded roads, swamped bridges and rerouted motorists in Howard County yesterday.

More rain was expected, and a flash flood watch was in effect until 4 a.m. today.

The rain that fell sporadically yesterday left some areas damp and other neighborhoods littered with storm debris.

About 1: 30 p.m., firefighters briefly closed the Patapsco River Bridge in Ellicott City.

Although waters were high, police had to reopen the bridge so traffic could be rerouted just over the Baltimore County line.

"It's been a while since it's been this bad. Last time, the bridge had to be rebuilt," said James Fitzpatrick of Ellicott City, who was watching the rising waters with his two sons. "It's really moving fast. Usually, it's a lazy river and you can see the bottom, but now it's almost up to the bridge. That's at least a 10-foot difference."

Firefighters blamed much of the flooding on overwhelmed drainage systems and ground saturated the day before.

The storm hit hardest in western Howard County, where rural roads cross small creeks and often have poor drainage.

A bridge on Woodbine Road and another farther south on Annapolis Rock Road were covered with water, Lisbon firefighters said.

County road crews and police closed at least nine roads.

River Road near Sykesville and Furnace and Levering avenues in Elkridge remained closed yesterday, fire officials said.

Six roads reopened by afternoon, including Bethany Lane north of U.S. 40, Woodbine Road near the Carroll County Line, Hipsley Mill Road near the Montgomery County line, Gaither Road near the Carroll County line, Newport Road near Woodbine Road and Shaffersville Road near Florence Road.

Firefighters said they hope the conditions won't last.

"We've been taking a beating the last couple of days," said fire Lt. Tony Grable.

Grable said fire crews in Elkridge were busy yesterday handling calls for road hazards -- fallen power lines, tree branches and other debris.

Since Monday, rains have torn down wires on Hanover Road and side streets in the area.

Wet roads slowed motorists, and fire officials encouraged people not to drive unless necessary.

A few drivers made the common mistake of being deceived by deep puddles of water that look like surface water from a distance, Grable said.

Firefighters and police were responding to several reports of cars stuck in floodwaters. One report said a woman's car was floating on Woodbine Road; no further details were available.

Police and rescue workers responded to a few minor accidents in addition to burglar and fire alarms triggered by the storm.

A crew of 100 from the Howard County Bureau of Highways went out yesterday to unclog storm drains and keep roads clear for the morning and afternoon traffic.

Fred Simmons, administrative services officer at the bureau, said the storm has been more of a menace than a problem. "I've seen heavier rain, but we just keep getting a lot of it," he said. "We're getting it day after day after day."

The storm changed the look of parts of Ellicott City.

Twigs and branches hung on power lines and were scattered over the flooded roads in the Historic District of Ellicott City yesterday afternoon. Clogged drains forced torrents of brown murky water down the sides of roads and into the Patapsco River.

Near Frederick Road in Ellicott City, the river rose 3 feet in 90 minutes. Fire officials had checked the water level at 12: 30 p.m., and it rose by 2 p.m. Firefighters warned that the rising water would likely get worse before it got better.

Dozens of bystanders at the Patapsco River Bridge took pictures and remembered the flood of 1972, when Hurricane Agnes caused the river to overflow.

Area store owners were worried about their businesses after fire officials advised them to leave.

Annie Soto, manager of a Citgo gas station, piled boxes of paper and merchandise under her arm to take home in case the business flooded.

Betsy McMahan, owner of Heavens to Betsy, the closest business to the river, said, "I'm scared that the water might hit my shop."

The west side of Ellicott City was hit hard by downpours. As streams on Bethany Lane were gushing, four teens were playing in a stream near Carrigan Drive.

Matt Eller, a high school junior, said the harsh weather gave him a chance to have a good time.

"It's not usually this high," he said. "We can't swim here unless it floods like now."

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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