As Md. dries out, inspectors dive in Flooding: With the storm named Fran gone, officials converge on Western Maryland to assess the damage and the mess it left behind.

September 11, 1996|By Debbie M. Price | Debbie M. Price,SUN STAFF

POINT OF ROCKS, Md. -- The waters came and the waters went.

The governor came and the governor went.

And Michelle Moore, unfazed by the gaggle of reporters, state police troopers and governor's aides tromping through her modest frame house, surveyed the damage wrought by the Potomac River and the second "100-year flood" in a single year, and summed up the sentiment of her fellow river dwellers.

"I ain't so bad," Moore said. "It could have been worse."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening stopped at Point of Rocks in Frederick County yesterday on a swing through Western Maryland to assess the damage from the weekend's Potomac River flooding, caused by heavy rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Fran. Allegany County, farther west, was the hardest hit as swollen creeks and tributaries near Lonaconing and Westernport caused an estimated $623,500 in damage to roads and bridges, and destroyed 19 homes and damaged 545 others.

State authorities said it is too soon to know whether the flooding will rival the cost of January's, which caused millions of dollars in public and private damage, or whether the state will qualify for federal aid.

Yesterday Glendening said that he will seek "long-term solutions" to prevent future flood damage, particularly in Allegany County, where he said reforestation is needed to curb erosion. But he noted that along the Potomac in towns such as Point of Rocks, "not much can be done."

"If you were standing here two days ago, you'd have been under 5 feet of water," said Frederick County Commissioner Bruce Reeder, pointing to an imaginary water mark in the air above the Potomac Market parking lot in Point of Rocks, where the river crested at 36.3 feet Sunday. "It was something."

Moore's turn-of-the-century Victorian house, like its neighbors along Clay Street, has weathered its share of floods, as painted stripes on the front door frame attest. The mark for September 1996 is just a touch below the mark for January 1996 and considerably lower than the mark for the flood of 1972. But the height of the marks tells only part of the story.

The January waters came at night and caught many unaware. This time folks were prepared. Furniture went up to second floors, pumps went on, sandbags were piled high.

Upstream, displays and artifacts in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., were whisked away to high ground; National Park Service rangers removed picnic benches, trash cans and portable toilets from the 35 campgrounds along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Along the Potomac, still roiling an angry brown yesterday, residents marveled at what had been spared and spoke with the buoyancy of those who have been through a disaster and see themselves not as victims but as survivors. "Heck, I was prepared for over 40-foot," said Gerald Taylor, who owns the Christian Life Fellowship Church building and a home on Clay Street.

In Harpers Ferry, where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers converge, Mayor Walton "Kip" Stowell was practically skipping down the street, his relief as evident as the smile on his face.

"We only had two businesses with any significant water and just a few small leaks in some houses, except for the house which had its roof completely peeled back by the wind," Stowell said.

The buildings of the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park along Shenandoah Street and John Brown's Fort swallowed their share of the river, but by the time the waters came, the buildings were empty. Most of the buildings have been restored with reinforced steel bars, cement plaster and removable floor planks to withstand some water damage.

The river was roughest on Virginius Island in the Shenandoah and the surrounding wetlands, where rangers were still assessing the damage, parks spokeswoman Marsha B. Starkey said.

"Some spots are better than they were in January and some spots are worse," Starkey said. "Each flood has its character."

An enormous tree stump, 4 feet in diameter, rested against a lamppost along Shenandoah Street, and pumps still drained water from basements. Boxes of books rescued from the rising water lined curbs, but the streets were remarkably clean and dry less than 48 hours after the water receded from Harpers Ferry.

The pedestrian bridge and train trestle -- weighted down for safety with loaded freight cars -- remained closed while railroad officials inspect them for damage. Across from Harpers Ferry, the C&O Canal, which was socked in January, appeared to have sustained another heavy blow.

Gordon Gay, information officer for the C&O Canal National Park, said the damage does not appear to be as bad as the $20 million caused in January along the canal's 184.5-mile length. Gay said the park service probably is "looking at three to five years of pretty big projects" to restore the canal towpath to its former state.

The towpath, which sustained the worst damage between Lock 33 and Lock 34 across from Harpers Ferry, has been closed since Sunday. Authorities hope to reopen it within a week.

"People went nuts last time we closed the path, so we're trying to get back to normal as soon as possible," Gay said.

After all, as Frederick County Commissioner Ilona Hogan noted in Point of Rocks, "People are getting used to the flooding."

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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