Soaked state gets a break Cleanup begins after three days of storms and flooding

June 21, 1996|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers John Rivera and Greg Tasker, and contributing writer Kathleen B. Hennelly contributed to this article.

Flood waters began to recede yesterday in many parts of Maryland, giving residents and road crews a chance to begin cleaning up after three days of torrential rains and deadly storms.

The forecast called for sunny and hot weather today, with drier air and sunshine through the weekend as the low pressure system responsible for the rains moves out of the area. But more showers and thunderstorms are likely by Tuesday.

"Things have really calmed down compared to what they were," said Lisa Albin, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

Lightning and rain-swollen streams have been responsible for four deaths in Maryland since the multiple storms began Monday. Scores of people were rescued from their flood-swept cars and homes, and thousands labored to drain flooded basements.

Two of the dead remained unidentified yesterday. A man and woman in their late teens or early 20s drowned in the Patapsco River Wednesday when they fell from their raft as it was swept over Union Dam, two miles west of Ellicott City.

A Baltimore construction worker was killed by lightning Wednesday, and a Thurmont restaurant employee was swept from her car and drowned near Emmitsburg on Tuesday.

Although many residents in flood-threatened communities said the deluge was comparable to the rains from Tropical Storm Agnes in June 1972, weather experts said that was true only in some places.

Bill Syrett, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University, said Agnes brought heavy rains to the entire region, while this week's rains have been more scattered.

"Some areas have had more than Agnes," he said. "Gettysburg had 11 inches in six hours" Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. But in other areas, and over the entire watershed, this week's rain "is not going to have the same effect as Agnes did."

Flash flood watches in Central Maryland, including the Baltimore area, were canceled last night at 11 p.m., although there were some widely scattered thunderstorms. Heavy rain was falling late last night in Washington and in eastern Prince George's County, but no additional flooding of streams and low-lying areas was expected, the National Weather Service said.

The slow-moving storms last night were producing an inch of rain per hour in some locations, the weather service reported.

"They're definitely heavy, torrential rain producers," said forecaster Jose Marrero at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Flash flood warnings were posted yesterday afternoon in southern St. Mary's County as a heavy thunderstorm lingered over the area, but state police said no serious problems were reported.

The Department of Natural Resources warned Marylanders yesterday to steer clear of flooded roads and fast-moving streams.

"These waters may not look as unsafe as they really are," said Secretary John R. Griffin. He urged "extreme caution" until swollen streams return to normal.

Flood warnings remained in effect late yesterday on the receding Monocacy River near Frederick and on Conococheague Creek, near Fairview in northern Washington County.

The Monocacy crested yesterday morning at 22.5 feet. It was expected to drop below its 15-foot flood stage by this morning. On the Potomac, the main stem continued to rise yesterday as it received the runoff from its tributaries. It was expected to crest this morning without flooding.

The State Highway Administration said two bridges remained closed while road crews worked to repair approaches washed out by high water.

In Frederick County, the closing of the Route 140 bridge over the Monocacy River, just west of the Carroll County line near Taneytown, was forcing motorists to take a 25-mile detour. In Montgomery, a Route 109 bridge over Little Bennett Creek, a mile west of Interstate 270, was closed.

SHA spokesman John Healy said both bridges were likely to reopen by 4 p.m. today.

In Emmitsburg, volunteer firefighters got a breather yesterday from water rescues and basement pumping. But Mount St. Mary's College faced a new threat: snakes.

Heavy rains washed several snakes, including a few copperheads, down a hillside above the school, stranding them in a campus parking lot and a grassy area.

"I guess snakes don't do a good job of wrapping themselves around trees when water is coming down like that," said Frank Buhrman, a college spokesman. Maintenance workers and county animal control officials removed the reptiles.

In Baltimore, fresh rains and clogged storm drains combined to flood roadways, said Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works. Work crews labored to open the drains and to pump basements, while trash boats skimmed the Inner Harbor of storm debris.

Bridge inspectors, meanwhile, found no damage to the Smith Avenue bridge in Mount Washington. A storm Wednesday caused the Jones Falls to rise 11 feet, threatening the structure.

City residents with water-related emergencies can call the 24-hour public works hot line at 396-5352.

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