In homes, it's water torture


The wretched water began pouring into the basement in Kelly Sheridan's Timonium house over the weekend and didn't stop.

Frantic, the 40-year-old fundraiser and her roommate pulled off all the paneling on the walls and slapped buckets of Drylok Fast Plug hydraulic cement into four different leaks. Then they stood there with their hands over the holes, praying the putty would harden.

It didn't.

The water won, rising menacingly until it covered their feet. Finally, at 5 a.m. yesterday, after six hours of fighting the flood, they went to bed, beaten and bewildered.

"It happened so fast," says Sheridan, who woke up two hours later to start again. She stayed home from work yesterday to wrestle with soaked paneling, wallpaper and carpeting - brand new - in the basement. "One minute, the laundry area was dry, the next it was just underwater. We had to drop everything. It was crazy."

All across Maryland and surrounding areas, the relentless rain tormented and taunted weary homeowners. Some fought tiny trickles and some battled gushing streams that insidiously invaded their homes and their peace of mind, through cracks in the wall, down blocked gutters, from window wells and even swelling up out of the ground itself.

To a homeowner, there are few things as frightening as unleashed waters - the Insurance Information Institute says water damage is third only to the equally biblical fire and storm when it comes to property owners' concerns. A drenching rain, contractors say, will expose hidden imperfections in a beloved home.

Dayle Bennett says she was jittery all weekend as the rain continued to fall on her Rosedale home. She slept with one ear listening to the steady shower outside after noticing a small drip in a front wall of her home recently.

Sadly, her fears were realized - the drip became a full-blown gusher in the front wall of her raised rancher yesterday. The 58-year-old retired schoolteacher immediately moved a bookcase, dining room furniture and other knickknacks from the area. But even as she used towels and a wet vacuum to soak up the water, the carpeting still got soggy.

Then, going into her basement, her heart filled with more dread: A pool of water had puddled underneath her new $5,000 heater and air conditioner, installed just a week ago.

"It's going to cost me about $5,000 to waterproof my house," says Bennett, who was calling around for estimates. "You're just at [the rainstorm's] mercy."

To say it was a busy day for the hundreds of basement waterproofers, roofers, plumbers and gutter-cleaning companies in the area would be like comparing the downpour to a slight sprinkle. The phones simply did not stop ringing.

Employees at White Marsh-based Basement Systems - The FloodBusters started the morning to find 30 messages each on 15 separate voicemails, left by desperate homeowners over the weekend. By the afternoon, at least 200 calls were logged.

Angie's List, an online listing and consumer ratings system of local service providers, saw a spike in the demand from Baltimore-area members urgently searching for all businesses associated with water damage. Home Depot and Lowe's saw a rush on wet and dry vacuums, dehumidifiers, utility pumps, generators and sump pumps.

And when the rain stops, says Kevin Balliet, assistant store manager at the Cockeysville Home Depot, "the carpet extractors and carpet blowers will be flying out of here."

Bryan Plumbing, Heating and Waterproofing in Baltimore - a nine-person operation run by Robin Bryan Culver - was inundated by 300 calls by 3:30 p.m.

In almost every case, callers wanted someone to show up not tomorrow, not in two hours, not soon, but "immediately," Culver said.

Sandi Taylor, the owner of Class A Cleaning & Restoration in Annapolis, began running at 8 p.m. Sunday from Columbia to Prince George's County to Baltimore County and didn't expect to stop until about 9 o'clock last night. Using all the resources available, Taylor went from home to home pulling out carpeting, ripping up padding, pumping out water, and helping residents dry out their basements with air movers and dehumidifiers.

"I'm a little sleepy," Taylor says during a rare break in the afternoon as she sat in stalled traffic. "But this is what we do. I think [homeowners] are just really happy to see me. They're kind of overwhelmed. They're worried. I always tell my employees that we're grief counselors. These people are going through the stages of grief and loss."

Matt Kwiatkowski says he is as much a therapist as he is a field manager at Charm City Waterproofing in Rosedale. When water damage can cost anywhere from $100 to $12,000 to repair, homeowners are "distraught, afraid and upset," says Kwiatkowski, an eighth-grade teacher. "They're right at that same emotional level. My teaching skills are perfect."

Throughout the area, towels and plungers and sheer will were marshaled into service.

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