As Marylanders struggled to recover from Isabel's destruction, another storm hit early yesterday, dumping heavy rain on an already soaked region, renewing fears of flooding, forcing the closure of more roads and setting back efforts to restore power.
In Baltimore County, six schools slated to reopen were closed at the last minute when power went out and roads became blocked. Near Washington, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was shut down for a time as crews dealt with the latest storm's impact. In Western Maryland, farmers braced for yet more flooded fields.
And though thousands of electrical workers pushed to restore power, the lights still had not come on for about 171,000 Marylanders last night.
As the latest storm subsided, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge toured communities on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay to view the wreckage from Tropical Storm Isabel. Federal officials set up offices to help residents as they begin to tally damage costs and work through the maze of insurance claims and local, state and federal assistance programs needed to rebuild homes and businesses.
Promising to provide support as quickly as possible for communities devastated by Isabel, Ridge toured with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and members of the state's congressional delegation to see firsthand the impact of the bay's tidal surge.
They made quick inspections of flooded homes in eastern Baltimore County and of restaurants and businesses on the Eastern Shore.
"We have a lot of work to do to help them recover," Ridge said as he surveyed some badly damaged houses in Bowleys Quarters. "They've lost books, photos and personal items that can't be replaced. This is probably the worst thing that has ever happened to them."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened disaster recovery centers in Annapolis, Middle River in Baltimore County and Fells Point in Baltimore, to provide one-stop shopping for storm victims seeking assistance programs. About 50 people made it to the Baltimore County center within the first hour, but only about 10 visited the Annapolis center all day.
Responding to community concerns that many residents were still unaware of the centers, U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger promised to get FEMA representatives to a community meeting tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department. Isabel's victims can register for assistance there, he said.
"What the community needs right now are generators, batteries and places for people with no shelter," Mike Vivirito, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association, told officials.
"That's why the federal government is here to help us," Ehrlich said.
Residents interested in getting federal aid must first call 1-800-621-FEMA.
Water up to the roof
As Ridge's tour passed through Queen Anne's County, Pam Ellison, owner of the Jetty Restaurant, said she is still unsure how to clean up a business that depended on outdoor decks and docking space for boaters.
"We had 8 or 9 feet of water in here," said Ellison, who bought the restaurant about 18 months ago. "Ours was the blue roof you kept seeing in all the shots of flooding at Kent Narrows. That was us, underwater except the roof."
Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he worries that the presence of federal and state officials will raise expectations that can't be met by FEMA and the state agency.
"I was very concerned at the press conference because I think many of the people in the audience, and there was quite a crowd there, thought, `Oh well, I'm going to have all the repair money to rebuild my house,'" Smith said. "The grant programs have caps, and they're not going to do the job."
Ultimately, most residents will have to rely on low-interest federal loans - not grants - to rebuild, he said.
Expect a long wait
State Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. warned Marylanders to expect long waits as insurers sort through thousands of claims: "The sad reality is that Virginia and North Carolina fared much worse than we did."
Redmer also suggested that residents affected by Isabel apply for federal funds even if they have insurance. "Err on the side of asking assistance from everybody you can," he said.
As of 11 p.m., electrical service was still out for 10,000 people in Anne Arundel County, 39,000 in Baltimore County, 24,000 in Baltimore, 6,000 in Carroll County, 10,000 in Harford County and 9,000 in Howard County, BGE officials said.
Even the utility workers were sometimes in the dark.
A group of workers, brought from outside Maryland to help BGE restore power, were finishing their meals at McCafferty's in Mount Washington yesterday when the restaurant's power suddenly went out.
"I think somebody said, `We've got BGE here,' and people started applauding," said bartender Kim Ludtke. "It was an `Our heroes!' kind of applause."
But the diners weren't miracle workers. The power remained off for the rest of the lunch hour, being restored in midafternoon.