Messes from storms linger

Victims working to repair flood-damaged structures

`I can't go through this again'

Up to 8 inches of rain fell suddenly July 7 and 12

July 26, 2004|By Matt Whittaker | Matt Whittaker,SUN STAFF

Nearly two weeks after the floodwaters receded, Marylanders are still cleaning away mud and debris and trying to move back into their homes and reopen their shops.

Except for those vowing to start anew elsewhere.

"I'm moving out," said Norma Gatchell, 63, who has lived in Charlestown off Route 7 in Cecil County for nearly 30 years and saw floodwaters also swamp her house during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

The July 12 storm that caused nearby Peddlers Run to overflow its banks and engulf everything but her roof was worse than the hurricane and wrecked all the repair work to the house, she said.

"We just got finished up with it, and now we're going to start over again," Gatchell said, her eyes welling with tears. "There's no way I'm staying here. I can't go through this again. Too many memories are gone. You cry a lot."

As much as 8 inches of rain were dumped in the area, causing flash flooding that stranded motorists, shut down roads and forced residents to flee homes in waterside towns.

In Gatchell's house last week, insulation hung from bare rafters, and rose-colored carpet was still sopping wet. Gatchell said the ceiling caved in because floodwaters rose above it.

Among the worst losses, she said, were her 500 books and irreplaceable pictures of her family, including a tin type from the late 1800s. She and her sister-in-law, Darlene, 58, whose house next door was also destroyed, are living with a relative.

The storm in Harford and Cecil counties was preceded by downpours that inundated the Baltimore area July 7. More than 4 inches of rain suddenly fell along the Jones Falls and prompted several rescues. No injuries were reported in either storm.

Business woes

The Jones Falls flooding severely damaged Nancy Graboski's framing and art store, The Beveled Edge, and other businesses in the Mount Washington area.

During the storm, she said, she and staff had about 10 minutes to rescue sculptures, paintings, etchings and photography at her store on Falls Road and at her production space in Woodberry near the historic Meadow Mill building.

They managed to save all the artwork from the 2 feet of water that swamped both locations, and artists with work at her store as well as others "rallied" the next day and began the cleanup process, she said.

"My family, friends and staff rolled up their sleeves and said, `How can we help?'" she said. They filled a 30-yard-long Dumpster with destroyed supplies, including framing wood and matte board.

Now, volunteers are helping her open a new location in Mount Washington Village, where she was planning to relocate to before the storm.

In the nearby Mount Washington Mill Business Center, Kenneth Himmelstein is trying to rescue his lifelong dream, the upscale men's clothing shop Samuel Parker Clothier, which he opened 19 months ago.

The flooding brought 40 inches of water and destroyed an estimated $400,000 worth of clothing. It left 6 to 8 inches of mud on the floor, damaged late-1800s vintage armoires and shirt cases, and destroyed three oriental rugs worth $2,000 apiece.

At first, Himmelstein thought it might take six weeks or longer to reopen, but he said he now expects the store to be back in business around Aug. 7, if not sooner.

"I knew I had to rebuild it immediately," he said. "I think four weeks is pretty darn good considering it was a total loss."

At the Meadow Mill Athletic Club, where more than 8 inches of water caused more than $500,000 in damage to the building's 35,000-square-foot first floor, co-owner Nancy Cushman stood last week beside ricks of maple wood that will be used to replace the floors of 16 squash courts and an aerobics studio.

The water caused the floor to buckle and also destroyed thousands of dollars of exercise equipment, but the club could, at least partially, open Sunday, she said.

"Being in the workout business, you don't tend to stress over things," she said, adding that many of the club's 2,000 members are concerned and called to offer help.

"This is like home to so many people, their social life. I think some people were more upset than me," Cushman said. "In the big scheme of things, you can build back. No one was hurt. It's not like your home."

Season's rainfall

Officially, it hasn't been an especially wet July for Baltimore. But the sudden, torrential downpours have given some spots more than an average month's worth of rain on a single day.

The July 12 storms also affected Port Deposit in Cecil, where Rock Run surged onto Main Street and water rose as high as 5 feet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the downpour produced as much as 8 inches in North East, Havre de Grace, Aberdeen and Perryman.

State action

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declared a limited state of emergency for waterlogged Harford and Cecil counties after the two waves of storms hit, and the U.S. Small Business Administration on Friday declared the counties to be SBA disaster areas. That authorizes the agency to make low-interest, long-term loans to homeowners, renters and businesses to repair or replace damaged property.

The July 12 flooding damaged or destroyed 87 homes and businesses, according to the governor's office. State agencies held workshops Wednesday and Thursday in Harford and Cecil counties to provide flood victims with information.

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