Floods follow rain, snow

Area residents continue cleanup amid high water

Most schools to reopen today

Highway agency warns motorists about potholes

February 24, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

The woes of too much snow were largely replaced yesterday by the problems of too much water as Marylanders continued the cleanup from the biggest snowstorm on record.

At 6 p.m., Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lifted the state of emergency that had been in effect for seven days -- but many people were still coping with the storm's aftermath.

The basements of hundreds of homes were flooded -- some with raw sewage -- and stores were closed because of fallen roofs or cracked ceilings, while flooding closed highways and the cover of water concealed dangerous potholes.

While all school systems in the metropolitan area planned to reopen today after a full week's shutdown, it was announced that at least three schools would remain closed because of storm-related damage -- Lake Clifton/Eastern High School in Baltimore, and Severn River and Magothy River middle schools in Anne Arundel County.

Authorities were concerned about high winds, with gusts as strong as 49 mph at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 1:54 p.m., fearing the possibility of trees anchored in soggy soil toppling onto power lines and buildings. But by late afternoon, when high-wind warnings were lifted, some power outages, but no serious damage, had been reported.

The flooding of underground equipment and gusty winds knocked out power to about 5,000 customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., said spokeswoman Linda Foy. The utility has about 1.14 million customers.

By 8 p.m., about 3,600 outages remained with about 2,300 in Anne Arundel County and 1,000 in Howard County. BGE crews had been dispatched to fix broken transformers and downed power lines that were damaged by the mixture of wind and water.

Last night, as temperatures dropped into the 20s, wet highways glazed over -- but the longer-range problem that will become apparent to motorists this morning will be roads pockmarked by potholes.

"They are all over the place," said Sandra Dobson, State Highway Administration spokeswoman. "There are some really bad ones."

Dobson appealed to the public for patience and to use caution on the roads today. "Water can fill up holes, and you might not notice how deep they are," she said.

Travel in some areas was hampered yesterday by snow melting and water backing up from blocked storm drains. The Baltimore-Washington Parkway was closed north of the Baltimore Beltway about 3:45 p.m. because of high water, and crews were working to reopen the road last night, said Kellie Boulware, an SHA spokeswoman. Water also closed roadways in Montgomery, Prince George's and Harford counties, but all had reopened by last night, she said.

Road crews remain focused on snow removal, Boulware said, but planned to begin pothole work on some interstate and secondary roads last night.

In Harford County, Route 7 was reopened after being closed in several places Saturday and early yesterday because of high water. State police in Bel Air said one vehicle got stuck on Route 7, but the driver got out without difficulty.

Several area stores were closed because of worries and discoveries of storm damage. At Arundel Mills, Saks 5th Avenue and Zales jewelry store were closed for a few hours after employees thought they had detected a structural flaw in the walls. They contacted county officials, who inspected the building and declared it safe, said Gene Condon, vice president and general manager of the large mall.

In Prince George's County, winds delayed the search and removal of rubble from the collapsed roof of a Toys "R" Us store in Lanham. Other retail casualties included Safeway supermarkets in Pasadena and Severna Park, closed since Saturday because of roof damage, fire officials said.

A fallen roof at the administrative offices was blamed for the closing of the two Anne Arundel middle schools, which share a campus in Arnold. They are expected to be closed through tomorrow. But other Anne Arundel schools, and those in the city and Carroll, Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties were scheduled to begin at the regular time today, officials said.

"Right now, it looks like a go," said Charles I. Ecker, Carroll's school superintendent.

Meteorologists credited temperatures staying in the 30s and 40s for tempering the meltdown. Todd Miner, a meteorologist with Penn State Weather Communications, said temperatures soared into the 70s in Norfolk, Va., and the 50s on the Eastern Shore, but the snowcap in the Baltimore region helped cool air temperatures. "It slowed the melting process," he said.

And in a twist from Mother Nature, the lingering drought conditions that lowered streams to record levels allowed them to better accommodate the melting snow and rain, said U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Gary Fisher.

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