Rainstorm wallops metro area

Police rescue eight from high water on Security Blvd.

48,000 in city lose power

State Fair opening canceled

power lines trees down in Carroll

August 27, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez and Greg Garland | Rafael Alvarez and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A vicious thunderstorm that turned the horizon black and filled the sky with nickel-gray sheets of water caused flash floods in Baltimore last night while dropping more than 4 1/2 inches of rain on the city in less than two hours.

The pounding canceled opening night of the Maryland State Fair; stranded scores of motorists at low-lying intersections; caused fires when houses and trees were hit by lightning; and flooded streets from Essex to Catonsville.

While some vehicles were submerged and traffic signals blew out throughout the area, no injuries were reported. At Fox Chevrolet on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn, cars began floating off the lot as Dead Run Creek overflowed behind the dealership. Nearby, Baltimore County police Officers John W. Young and Doug Jess rescued eight people in a matter of minutes at about 7 p.m.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in The Sun yesterday incorrectly reported that the Northwest Ice Rink at Cottonworth and Kelly avenues in Baltimore was underwater because of flash flooding. In fact, very little water seeped into the building, which remains open for business. The Sun regrets the error.

The trouble spot was Security Boulevard near Gwynn Oak Avenue across from Social Security Administration headquarters.

"The water kept rising and rising on both sides of the road. At the worst point it was about 4 feet deep with a good current," said Young, who marveled that motorists continued to drive into the water as others were rescued. "We went to those who seemed to be in the most danger, grabbing people as we could, a few kids and others. It's nothing you get trained for, you act on instinct. If it had been over my head, they would have been in trouble."

Dozens of similar incidents were reported throughout the metropolitan area before the storm moved to the Eastern Shore by midnight. The Northwest Ice Rink near Jones Falls was underwater and motorists at the dip in Russell Street near the stadiums at Camden Yards stood on the roofs of their cars, waiting to be rescued.

At 10: 30 p.m., 48,201 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers -- most of them in Baltimore -- were without power.

"We didn't realize how deep it was until the water came over the top of the headlights," said Jason Rogers, 24, of Edgemere, whose Dodge Neon stalled in 3 feet of water at Boston and Aliceanna streets in Canton. "We backed up and went to sit on high ground to watch other people try to barrel through." Motorists were yelling for help on Clipper Mill Road in Woodberry, and Interstate 83 near Cold Spring Lane was closed to traffic.

"We had a lot of people trapped in vehicles because of flooding and a lot of officers rescuing people all over the city," said a Baltimore police spokeswoman. While some officers said boats would have helped, the city marine unit was not called in.

Between 6: 30 p.m. and 8: 30 p.m., 4.6 inches of rain was recorded at Fort McHenry, an extraordinary amount of precipitation for a short period of time, according to Chris Strong, a National Weather Service meteorologist stationed in Sterling, Va. Suburban Woodlawn got more than 7 inches of rain.

Tim Taylor, 23, a T. Rowe Price employee who lives in Canton, watched the storm roll in from an upper floor of his company's skyscraper at the Inner Harbor.

"I looked down at the corner of Light and Pratt streets and cars were going every which way," Taylor said.

About 7: 15 p.m, Anne Arundel County Del. John R. Leopold was attempting to get home to Pasadena in his 1997 Oldsmobile when he encountered flooding at Russell Street and Waterview Avenue.

When Leopold stopped his car, the water rose around him nearly to the windows. He got out and waded through waist-high water to higher ground, leaving his car and catching a ride home.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport measured 1.13 inches of rain by 9 p.m., and a portion of Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Anne Arundel County was closed. Westminster got 2.9 inches, and about 2 inches fell in Bowie. Dozens of trees and wires were knocked down across northern Carroll County, blocking numerous roads.

It was all the result of a weather pattern spawned in the Great Lakes region that dumped 7 inches of rain yesterday in Riviera Beach. The large, slow-moving swirl of low pressure -- some 30 miles across -- moved east from Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Meteorologist James P. Travers, also with the National Weather Service, said forecasts called for a 30 percent chance of rain for much of Maryland today.

"It's a little unusual," Travers said. "It's what we refer to as a `closed low' in the upper atmosphere, which is more typical of late fall, winter or early spring months."

Travers said the weather system was weakening and only widely scattered showers and a slight chance of rain are expected tomorrow. Most areas of Maryland were likely to get another half-inch of rain today, he said.

Travers said that Hurricane Dennis, which is expected to be off the South Carolina coast by Sunday morning, is something of a wild card but is not likely to bring more rain to Maryland. He added that recent rains, while beneficial, do not mean that Maryland is free from the effects of a drought that has developed over more than a year.

"We still need anywhere from 15 to 18 inches of rain to completely wipe out the rainfall deficit," he said. "The situation is a little better than it was, but we need a lot more of what we just got."

Sun staff writers Matthew Mosk, Amy Oakes, Richard Irwin and Tim Craig and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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