In Edgemere, flooding `worst it's ever been'

Independent residents tough it out, reluctant to accept offers of help

Isabel's Aftermath

September 20, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff and Andrew A. Green | Jonathan D. Rockoff and Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

When the billowing Back River by her house washed over the pier and into her basement, Melissa Starr figured she needed help.

It was high tide at 2 a.m. yesterday, and the force of Tropical Storm Isabel was pouring down on her house. Although Starr might have been able to withstand the flooding, her 6-month-old baby could not.

So Starr, 22, called out to the half-dozen firefighters splashing waist-deep in the rising waters rushing through the Edgemere neighborhood in southeastern Baltimore County.

They gathered her child, Allara, and then her into a rescue boat.

`A safer place'

"It was getting a little bad, and I wanted to put my daughter in a safer place," Starr said afterward, holding her baby close to her chest in the warmth of a firetruck.

Like many of the working-class residents living along the maze of streets making up Lynch Point, Starr, after first rejecting rescue, was forced to find refuge for the night. Unlike any storm that residents could remember, Isabel forced these independent folks to depend upon strangers for help.

"This is the worst, the highest it's every been," said Kevin Resavage, a floor installer who has lived in the 3200 block of Lynch Road all of his 45 years.

Awestruck by the act of nature a few blocks from his house, he brought a cooler of beer to watch. It was as if Donovan's tavern down the street hadn't closed for the night.

Too deep for fire engine

The flooding was so bad that by the time Lt. Paul Piker and his crew of firefighters arrived not long before high tide, their engine couldn't plow through the water, which was 18 inches deep.

Piker called for water rescue teams for assistance.

"We couldn't make it," said Piker, who estimated that 50 houses experienced flooding, as the waters crept up the sides of his rubber boots on what an hour earlier had been a passable street.

At some places, Piker said, the water was 5 feet deep.

That was the story in just one of many low-lying communities around the Baltimore area and in Maryland - places such as Bowleys Quarters, Millers Island, Sparrows Point, Turners Station and Wilson Point in Baltimore County, where flooding cut off streets and filled basements.

3rd shelter opens

Rescue crews evacuated more than 350 people, so many that the county was forced to open a third emergency shelter.

Officials could not say early yesterday when the uprooted would be able to go home.

About 180,000 county residents experienced power outages, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said.

Even in the darkness, the small sizes and neat lawns of the ranchers, bungalows and split-level houses on Lynch Point spoke to the proud tightness of the neighborhood of longshoremen, steel workers and police officers.

When neighbors ventured for assistance, they said, they didn't go far. Mostly, though, they didn't need help.

`Don't stay,' says mom

That might explain why Barb Woolfrey, 54, had to plead over and over with her son Randy and grandson Todd early yesterday to vacate their house of 17 years in the 7200 block of River Drive Road.

The yard next to the Woolfreys' was covered with water.

"Go with me. Don't stay," the mother told her boys as her concerned husband tugged her to the car that would take them to the higher ground of their daughter's house in Parkville.

The Woolfrey boys remained an hour later, and a few other residents pledged to tough things out.

These were folks such as Ronald Wozniak, who drove a pickup truck parked at his River Drive Road residence out of the water's way but not himself. "Lived with water all my life," the longshoreman said. "We're used to that."

After clearing his waterlogged property of vehicles, Wozniak, 45, joked about the soggy circumstances with similarly stubborn neighbors, clinging to the knowledge that the ticking of the clock meant the tide would soon retreat.

"Well, hell, my house is worth more now," Wozniak said. "It's got a waterfront."

Ed Clark, who lives across the street from Wozniak, slogged around his yard with a giant flashlight, checking on the often unidentifiable debris eddying around what used to be his storage shed.

Clark was here for Hurricane Hazel in 1954, so when firefighters came around and asked him and his family to leave, he laughed them off.

"My wife said they can carry me out, but they ain't gonna take me out," the 63-year-old said.

Repairs are in order

After chatting with the neighborhood old-timers standing thigh-deep in the flooded street, Frank Simms, 33, waded back to his house, a two-story porch-front Colonial he and his wife, Sandra, bought when their two kids and two dogs got to be too much for their place in Canton.

Simms' mother, Janet Mikles, lived on River Drive, so they bought the house across the street and fixed it up.

"Looks like we're going to have to fix it up some more now," he said.

It was his first storm, Simms said, and he didn't expect it to be quite so bad. But the house doesn't have a basement, so no worries about it flooding, and the kids were upstairs, so they were safe too.

"We're golden," he said.

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