White Hall mops up after rain, mud bath

Community watched as water rose Thursday

November 18, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,sun reporter

Rising at dawn yesterday, Paul Roberts climbed into a skid loader to start clearing out the muddy remnants of a storm that less than 12 hours earlier had caused several feet of floodwater to wash through his White Hall neighborhood in northern Baltimore County.

"It's like a slurry," said Roberts, 40. "With this flood, the mud is particularly bad. I've never seen it like this before."

By afternoon, he had managed to clear enough mud to free two of his cars - including a restored 1976 MG that had a water line up to the top of its windows - from the parking lot adjacent to the Gunpowder Falls State Park Trail and Department of Natural Resources' maintenance building where he works.

The family's Audi station wagon, however, was likely a total loss, he said.

Roberts was among scores of residents clearing driveways, sidewalks and parking lots after Thursday's fast-moving storm flooded many roadways.

In the county's northern area, floodwaters stretched from Graystone Road down along Wiseburg and Big Falls roads.

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport reported 2.35 inches of rain Thursday - most of it between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m., said John Darnley, the observation program leader at the National Weather Service.

"Looking at the radar, I noticed Baltimore County was particularly hard-hit," Darnley said.

Two to 3 inches drenched the rural northern portion of the county, with as much as an inch of rain falling in 45 minutes, he said.

BGE reported about 33,000 homes without power in the metropolitan area at the peak of the storm, about 6 p.m. Thursday, said Linda Foy, a spokeswoman for the utility.

She also said that Baltimore County suffered the most downed power lines, but she couldn't provide exact figures of how many customers had lost service.

By 4:30 p.m. yesterday, power was restored to nearly all the homes, Foy said.

While rain pounded the county, high waters apparently swept a deer into the Inner Harbor. The animal was spotted about 9 a.m. yesterday by a National Aquarium worker who had been photographing debris in the Harbor.

By boat, city police and aquarium staff hoisted the exhausted deer onto the Pier 3 floating dock, where the aquarium's ambulance was waiting to warm the deer with warm water, said Molly Foyle, a spokeswoman for the aquarium.

The aquarium contacted the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, which agreed to provide a temporary home for the animal. With police escort, the aquarium ambulance took the tired, wet deer to the zoo, where veterinarians were waiting to treat it, Foyle said.

"Once in the Harbor, there's no getting out, unless you climb a ladder," said Foyle.

In White Hall yesterday afternoon, Roberts, who lives in a state park-owned home across the street from the Gunpowder Falls facility, said the house was mostly spared and had only a few inches of water in the basement.

The DNR building, with an office and maintenance shop, was another story.

Roberts and other workers found about 7 inches of water and mud on the floor of the building, which stands about 4 feet above ground level.

Roberts estimated it would take at least a week to clear the mud from the whole area.

Workers - some of whom came from other state parks to pitch in - used an industrial vacuum cleaner, squeegees and mops.

"I expected to see some mud, but I didn't expect to see it in the shop," said Nancy Lease, who has worked in park maintenance for about nine years. "In a day or two, after it dries, we can push it into a pile and move it."

Eli Tsismanakis, 48, had to blow dry, drain gasoline and change the oil of chainsaws, weed cutters and other equipment that had been drenched.

Sarah Fitzmaurice, 25, who coordinates educational programs in the Hammerman area of Gunpowder Falls State Park, on the eastern side of the county, wielded a squeegee to push out mud before mopping the floors.

"We're out here because this is where the mess is," she said.

Tina Bianca, northern area manager for the state park service, said that because of the damage she saw after Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003, she knows heavy rains can spell trouble.

But she said Thursday's warnings were directed at shore areas, not low-lying areas and she hadn't expected to see the muddy mess she found yesterday.

About a half-dozen padded office chairs sat on a wooden deck to air dry while Bill Schmalzer, 68, a retired biology teacher and naturalist with the park service, powered up the vacuum cleaner to clear mud out of the shop.

As he surveyed Roberts' progress on the parking lot, Schmalzer stood on a thinner layer of mud and shook his head.

"This is definitely what we call a nature experience," he said.

gina.davis@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Laura Barnhardt contributed to this article.

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