Rain came, rain coming

Downpours inundate Maryland

evacuations urged in North Laurel


Hundreds of people were being urged to leave their homes in North Laurel late last night as heavy rains prompted the opening of floodgates on the neighboring Rocky Gorge Dam - the most recent problem for Marylanders soaked by a storm system stalled across much of the East Coast.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission alerted the city to the imminent opening of five of the dam's seven floodgates to lower the level of the reservoir, which would cause water to rise downstream and likely flood a stretch of the Patuxent River along the border of Howard and Prince George's counties.

While rainfall last night was much less than fell Sunday in most areas, the runoff into streams and rivers was growing - and people whose homes were inundated over the weekend were trying to recover and clean up the mess.

In the Eastern Shore town of Federalsburg, the mess included brown water oozing out of the living room carpet of Jackie Sharpley's two-story home. Flies swarmed in a room that smelled like a wet wool sweater.

"The whole downstairs completely has to be replaced because of mold and water damage," she said. "Everything just stinks. It stinks."

Sharpley and her friend Vaughn Summers had fans roaring and the air conditioning turned as high as it would go as they tried to dry out their home - hoping to take advantage of a narrow window between the weekend deluge and the renewed soaking predicted for today and the rest of the week.

Sharpley and Summers were two of the many Marylanders trying to dry out after hurricane-level rains - minus the wind - raked across Maryland beginning Sunday.

Intermittent downpours continued to pelt the saturated state throughout yesterday - contributing to one highway fatality in Prince George's County, disrupting train travel, flooding communities, knocking out phones and power, felling trees and closing roads throughout the region.

In Laurel, an emergency shelter was opened at the town community center and emergency officials set up a watch along U.S. 1 at the Patuxent to monitor the river. City spokesman Jim Collins said early today that the city would not know how much water is coming for several hours.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had sent damage assessment teams to Caroline and Dorchester counties to see whether the area might qualify for federal disaster assistance.

The lone death linked to the storms occurred about 4 p.m. near Bowie, when a car driven by 43-year-old Mary Leslie Griffin hydroplaned in the wet westbound lanes of U.S. 50 near Route 197, overturned and hit a median guardrail, said state police Cpl. Mark Cummings.

Griffin, of Silver Spring, was pronounced dead at the scene, he said.

The National Weather Service warned that the coming days could bring more flooding as rivers top their banks. The next day without a thunderstorm in the local forecast: Monday.

The persistent rains are the result of what Accuweather.com meteorologist John Gresiak called "an atmospheric traffic jam" caused by a high-pressure system immobilized over the Atlantic "like a jack-knifed tractor-trailer." Behind it is stuck a low-pressure system that just keeps raining and raining in a band running from Maine to Florida.

Gresiak said it's the kind of weather event that occurs about once or twice a decade.

That's about once or twice too often for Sharpley, who said she went to bed Saturday night without a drop of rain falling and awoke Sunday to the sound of emergency workers warning her and her neighbors to evacuate their low-lying neighborhood near Marshyhope Creek.

She and Summers were able to return by late afternoon and found that rain had flooded the crawl space and seeped through the first-floor carpet.

"Water bugs, critters of all sorts, just came in," she said.

The weather system that drenched this Caroline County town is creating havoc up and down the East Coast. Maryland is right at the center of the action, with recorded 24-hour rainfall exceeding 10 inches in at least one location. Many parts of the state received a month's worth of rain in a day.

The result was a transportation nightmare. Dozens of state roads and countless local roads were closed by flooding.

Dave Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said the storm's effect on road travel would be 9 on a scale of 10.

"It's equivalent to when a hurricane comes through in terms of road impact," he said.

In Baltimore, some streets were closed by flooding early yesterday but most were open by rush hour, according to city Transportation Department spokesman David Brown.

Brown said the Jones Falls topped its banks in places - flooding out parts of Clipper Mill Road and Union Avenue - but then receded. He said that while the stream's waters got close to the Jones Falls Expressway, the JFX didn't need to be closed.

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