Storms unleash floods in Cecil, Harford

Up to 8 inches of rain damages homes, turns streets into waterways

Midsummer Deluge

July 13, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Torrential storms dumped as much as 8 inches of rain yesterday on parts of northeastern Maryland, causing flash flooding that stranded motorists, shut down roads and had residents bailing out homes in waterside towns.

While some people had to be rescued from vehicles or homes that had become islands, no injuries were reported as a result of the storms, which gripped the area for about six hours.

But raging floodwaters caused extensive damage to homes and businesses in the Cecil County town of North East, where at least a dozen people were homeless last night.

Residents said it was the worst storm damage they'd seen - topping Hurricane Floyd and Tropical Storm Isabel.

"We have had different storms that affected different areas, but this storm affected every area," said North East Mayor Robert McKnight. "Every access road was flooded. We closed down our town for the first time ever in my whole entire life."

In Port Deposit, also in Cecil County, Rock Run surged onto Main Street yesterday afternoon and water rose as deep as 5 feet. Residents said it took just seconds for the water to strand them in their homes.

The town police chief, Mark Tomlin, braved the flooding in his Ford Expedition to rescue four children, ages 4 to 13 - each carried by their father, Dennis Perkins, from their front porch and handed through the window of the sport utility vehicle.

As Tomlin drove them away, he said, water flowed over the roof of his vehicle.

"It was only about three seconds that we were under water and back up, but that's long enough for me," he said.

Rain fell - at times in lashing sheets and deafening downpours - throughout the afternoon. At North East High School in Cecil County, 6.2 inches of rain was reported by late afternoon. It fell in torrents, at rates of 1 to 2.4 inches an hour, according to instruments installed there by the WeatherBug online weather service.

Its instruments reported 5.6 inches at Cecil Community College in North East, and 2.65 inches at Havre de Grace Middle School.

8 inches in North East

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last night that the downpour produced as much as 8 inches in North East, Havre de Grace, Aberdeen and Perryman.

The torrential rains were the result of several factors, according to meteorologist Todd Miner of the Penn State Weather Communications Group.

A speedy segment of the jet stream triggered a disturbance across the Northeastern states that encouraged updrafts in what was already a warm, humid air mass, he said.

The wet air cooled as it climbed, and the cooling wrung out copious amounts of rain. The slow movement of the storm cells increased local rainfall amounts.

It was the same combination of factors that produced torrential rains and flooding in Baltimore on Wednesday - storms that dropped as much as 4 inches of rain on some locations in less than three hours, turned Jones Falls into a raging river, flooded businesses, washed away cars and prompted several dramatic rescues.

Yesterday's storms wrought similar, and even worse, damage on the northeastern reaches of the state.

In North East, residents waded through a foot or more of water on West Cecil Avenue after the banks of Northeast Creek overflowed - sending waves of brown water into shops and businesses.

"We see everything coming on the water: wood, a plastic chair, small barbecue grill," said Giuseppe Dimeo, owner of Bella Pizza in downtown North East. Dimeo and his staff tried to sweep and mop water and mud out of the shop last night.

Still, he said, it would be impossible to reopen for at least another day.

Swimming to safety

North East resident Irene Polowski was driving home from work in Newark, Del., on Route 7 when floodwaters from Stony Run surrounded her, forcing her to abandon her Honda Passport and swim more than 20 feet to safety.

"I grabbed onto a tree when I jumped out and it broke," said a calm Polowski, several hours after her narrow escape. The SUV, which was washed down the road some 200 yards, was totaled, she said. "I opened the door and the mud just came pouring out."

In Havre de Grace, where the storm-swollen Susquehanna River poured into the Chesapeake Bay, police Sgt. Kellie Budnick answered an endless stream of phone calls from people trapped in homes surrounded by water and desperate to get out.

"You can't," Budnick told one caller. "All the roads into town are under waist-deep water."

Asked by another caller when the main intersections would reopen, she said, "When Mother Nature decides to stop raining."

Last night, city officials had already condemned one house on low-lying Juniata Street because of flood damage.

Resident Joshua League, 41, who owns one of several flooded homes in Havre de Grace, refused to be dour.

"I think I should sell now that I have a waterfront property," League joked, swigging a bottle of beer on the sidewalk across the street from the flooded house that he rents to a tenant.

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