Floyd blusters into Md.

600,000 homes lose power across Md.

floods force hundreds from homes

Heavy wind and rain strand travelers, close businesses, schools

`Very, very fortunate'

Hurricane's impact falls short of forecast

coastal areas spared

September 17, 1999|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Hurricane Floyd lurched through Maryland yesterday like an aging fighter, making plenty of trouble but past its prime.

The storm's hammering winds and rain closed schools and businesses, disrupted travel, flooded streets and basements, and downed trees and power lines throughout the region. Hundreds of people were forced from their homes by rising water, and hundreds more were stranded in stalled trains in Baltimore.

Some of the worst flooding was in Cecil County, where more than 600 people fled the town of North East. Rain and tides combined to send the North East River over its banks, threatening homes and the two bridges into town. Parts of the Route 272 bridge were washed away.

On the Eastern Shore, more than 100 residents were evacuated from Crisfield, where southeast winds and surging tides triggered flooding that Somerset County emergency services chief Steven R. Marshall said was "as bad as I've ever seen it."

Statewide, about 600,000 homes were left without electric power by the time Floyd was downgraded to a tropical storm at 5 p.m. and left the state. In the Baltimore region, 490,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric customers lost power, the most in two decades. By midnight, 322,000 BGE customers were still without power.

For only the second time in 18 years, BGE called for help from neighboring utilities, a spokeswoman said. BGE had 300 crews working through the night, with service to some areas not expected to be restored until Sunday.

Thirty-four crews from Allegheny Power; 20 from American Electric Power, a multistate utility sending workers from Indiana and Southern Virginia; 16 from Central Illinois Public Service; and 30 from Ameren in St. Louis are coming to Maryland to assist BGE.

Thirty 30 crews specializing in tree removal were en route from Roanoke, Va.

But while its torrential downpours exceeded 10 inches in some areas, Floyd's winds and tides fell short of the dire forecasts, sparing bayfront and coastal communities from the catastrophe that many had feared.

A 17-member federal emergency response team arrived in Pikesville yesterday afternoon to conduct damage assessments, if needed. But state officials doubted that any county would report the $5 million in damage needed to qualify for federal assistance.

"We're very, very fortunate. It had minimal impact in the state," said David McMillion, the director of Maryland's Emergency Management Agency. "We had some areas that had some significant damage, but we are fortunate that we did not end up with the impact of the hurricane directly."

However, North East residents would not call it "minimal."

The storm sent the North East River -- at the northern extreme of the Chesapeake Bay -- surging into residents' yards. It swept away branches, trash and tires and made streets impassable.

"The water was up at least to my hip," said Melissa Cook McKenzie, North East's town administrator.

As the river washed over the tops of parked cars and trucks, residents feared that the main bridge leading into downtown would be closed. Eighty-five residents from two neighborhoods and two trailer parks sought shelter at a Red Cross shelter, according to Cecil County Department of Emergency Services spokesman Mike Dixon.

Maryland National Guard trucks laden with sandbags were dispatched to North East to help battle the flooding.

When the water rises

In Elkton, Elk Creek turned furious, rising to the first-floor windows of small homes and trailers. A 13-year-old boy stuck in a tree was rescued by Cecil County firefighters as the 10-foot-deep Elk Creek rushed beneath him. He was treated for hip and leg pains and possible hypothermia.

Couches, chairs and home fuel tanks were floating toward the bay.

"All my goodies are in there my CD player, my TV. I got out while the getting was good," said Kenny Aleshire, 28, who had to abandon his home near Elk Creek.

In Essex in eastern Baltimore County, rainwater swept 10-year-old Andrew Keatts into a storm drain. The torrent carried him nearly 300 feet through the buried pipe before firefighters opened a manhole cover and pulled him to safety. The boy was unhurt.

In St. Mary's County, 26 people were rescued by boats from a trailer park, homes and stranded cars as the St. Mary's River and other waterways overflowed. Many residents were taken to a nearby shelter, including Diane Bean who sat shivering with her small, wet dog in her lap.

"I was scared coming out on the boat because the current was so strong," she said. "The water was rising around the trailer park in all directions, moving fast."

The only reported Maryland fatality linked to the storm was a high school principal in Princess Anne who suffered a heart attack early yesterday while setting up a shelter at Washington High School. Ronald Harder, 57, had just finished moving mats at the shelter.

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