Flood danger recedes along Susquehanna

Port Deposit breathes easier

bodies of 2 teens found in Frederick County

'It could have been far, far worse'

Storm's Aftermath

Port Deposit

June 30, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

With a second day of sunshine and water levels along the Susquehanna River peaking before dinnertime, Maryland appeared to be on the way to recovery yesterday from this week's torrential rains and flooding.

Operators of Conowingo Dam, who expected to open enough floodgates to trigger a voluntary evacuation in the riverfront town of Port Deposit, instead saw the Susquehanna calming, and there was hope that the water would begin to recede overnight.

"People will sleep a little easier knowing the worst is over," said Port Deposit's deputy mayor, Kerry Abrams.

In Montgomery County, meanwhile, about 2,200 people who had been evacuated from their homes near the leaking earthen dam at Lake Needwood were told late last night that it was safe to return.

In Frederick County, searchers found the bodies of two teenage boys who apparently drowned in Little Pipe Creek after leaving their homes to watch rising waters. That brought to six the number of Maryland deaths blamed on the rains and flooding.

Maryland's congressional delegation asked the Bush administration for assistance, requesting help from federal agriculture and small-business agencies, and from the Army Corps of Engineers to deal with the damage.

Among the last in Maryland to feel the effects of the heavy rain were a handful of Port Deposit residents whose backyards were submerged under nearly 3 feet of water yesterday afternoon.

Lloyd "Eddie" Quinn, 16, and friend Eric Kuhs, 15, are used to venturing over a set of railroad tracks and climbing into the Susquehanna to swim on hot days. But yesterday, the river came to them, gushing through a railroad underpass and into Quinn's backyard.

"We have a slight problem," Quinn, standing waist-deep in water, told his aunt. He and Kuhs worked to recover as many items as possible from a backyard storage room - a keyboard, a light-up picture of the Virgin Mary and several porcelain vases.

The Quinns and their neighbors experience such flooding several times a year, they said, but not typically in June.

Rumors about dam

Rumors about how many of Conowingo's 53 floodgates might be opened were the talk of the town, and officials kept residents informed by handing out fliers door to door with updates.

About 4 p.m., officials said the river was cresting as 24 gates were open; 26 would bring a warning siren for a voluntary evacuation below the dam.

The water inched high enough to close a four-mile stretch of Route 222 and prompted the evacuation of a half-dozen homes. A handwritten sign jokingly said "Swim at risk $1.00" in a flooded downtown parking lot that had been dubbed the "Port Pool."

Some blamed the hydroelectric dam's operator, Exelon Power, for the surge in water.

From a stone step in his backyard, Donald Poist, 75, a former town mayor, watched as his new $5,000 furnace became submerged and said Exelon should have started a gradual release of water sooner to minimize problems.

"I'm a lifelong resident, and I've always had a problem with the dam. There's a lack of compassion there," Poist said.

A spokesman for Exelon said federal regulations require the company to keep a minimum water level behind the dam.

Cooperation with local officials has improved substantially since 1996, when PECO Energy Corp., which then operated the dam, opened 39 of the gates and sent several feet of icy water flooding into downtown, said Ben Armstrong, an Exelon spokesman.

Boat ramps closed

About four miles downstream, where boaters are expected to gather for an annual Independence Day fireworks celebration in Havre de Grace this weekend, boat ramps in city-owned parks were ordered closed until further notice, and Harford County officials advised boaters to stay clear of the upper Chesapeake Bay.

"We're seeing all kinds of debris, including trees, tree trunks and wood," said Harford County emergency planner Linda Ploener. "It's making navigation treacherous."

Soggy conditions were blamed for the spill of 52,000 gallons of raw sewage into a wooded area from a sanitary sewer line in the Constant Friendship section of Abingdon, the latest of several rain-related sewage spills in Central Maryland.

The amount of water seeping from the Lake Needwood Dam near Rockville was not increasing yesterday.

County officials had been concerned about seven leaks that were discovered Tuesday evening in the 45-year-old earthen dam. On Wednesday, workers covered the holes with a gravel blanket, a tarpaulin covered with sand and gravel that they hoped would be heavy enough to prevent the water from seeping though, while engineers tried to find the source of the leaks and come up with a more permanent solution.

At one point, the lake was 22 feet above normal. But a release of water yesterday brought the level down 4 feet, reducing pressure on the dam, county officials said.

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