Worst not over, governor warns

Record rain across Maryland brings power outages, closes schools, floods roads, opens a huge sinkhole

May 13, 2008|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun reporter

High winds and torrential rains that topped 6 inches in parts of Southern Maryland stranded motorists, toppled trees and cut electric service to tens of thousands of customers yesterday, while a widening sinkhole threatened to swallow a cluster of homes in Prince George's County.

Although forecasters expected sunny skies to replace the clouds today, they warned that rain could return before the end of the week.

Yesterday's record deluge, which capped five days of rain, closed schools in Charles and Worcester counties. Power outages closed several more in Baltimore. High tides, 50-mph gusts and heavy surf in Ocean City forced authorities to close the Boardwalk. Parts of 23 Maryland state highways and hundreds of local roads were blocked by high water.

The Coast Guard reported the death of one of two crew members it plucked from a private research vessel that foundered 14 miles off Rehoboth Beach, Del., late yesterday morning.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Nick Cangemi said a rescue helicopter responded to the vessel's distress call and lifted two men described as "captains" from the Russell W. Peterson. They were flown to a hospital in Salisbury, where one was declared dead.

The vessel had been chartered for bird migration studies by Bluewater Wind LLC, which hopes to build an offshore wind farm in the area.

Elsewhere, the Coast Guard responded early yesterday when 14 Naval Academy midshipmen aboard the 49-foot sailing vessel Marmaluke radioed shortly after midnight that their boat had been dismasted in bad weather on the West River.

Coast Guardsmen aboard a 41-foot boat took the Mids off the disabled vessel and transported them to shore by 2 a.m. One minor injury was reported during the transfer, said Petty Officer John Edwards of Coast Guard sector Baltimore.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Martin O'Malley met with top Maryland emergency and transportation officials, emerging with a warning: "The worst of this is not over."

The governor said officials were keeping a close eye on Ocean City, where tides were expected to be 1 1/2 to 2 feet higher than normal before the threat ends.

"We're doing everything we can to keep people off the Boardwalk, off the beach and - believe it or not - out of the water," said Cpl. Mike Levy, a spokesman for the city Police Department. "We're telling people to stay in their houses, but there's always some daredevils."

Across the Delmarva Peninsula, winds hurled 3 feet of water onto downtown streets in Crisfield on the bay in Somerset County. Just offshore, Smith Island villages also flooded. Schools in Worcester County closed at 1 p.m.

Prince George's firefighters roused residents of Camp Springs from their beds early yesterday after a 10-foot-deep sinkhole appeared in their backyards along Yorkville Road south of Andrews Air Force Base. Patios and carports were tilted and cracked, and tall trees toppled, their roots in the air.

Most of Maryland's troubles occurred in Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Charles and Calvert counties, but flooding also closed roads for a time in Frederick, Carroll and Harford counties, as well as on the Eastern Shore.

With storm flows threatening to overwhelm a wastewater treatment plant, Anne Arundel officials asked residents south of U.S. 50 to curtail nonessential water use last night.

During the morning, 20 Anne Arundel firefighters were called to help rescue a man who drove a full-size pickup truck into high water along Dicus Mill Road in Gambrills. "His life was in danger," said Battalion Chief Matthew Tobia. The truck, he said, "is gone."

In Maryland City, firefighters from Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties teamed up to rescue another motorist who had driven into high water at Whiskey Bottom and Brock Bridge roads.

Storm winds gusted to 39 mph at BWI Marshall Airport, felling many trees as the roots slipped in the saturated soil. Anne Arundel firefighters were called after a fallen tree damaged a home and started a small fire in the 1700 block of Robinhood Road, in Epping Farms north of Annapolis.

Many toppling trees took power lines down with them, cutting electricity service to tens of thousands. By midafternoon yesterday, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews had restored power to 80,000 customers, but 15,000 were still waiting.

Power outages in Baltimore forced Bay Brook and Curtis Bay elementary schools and Benjamin Franklin Middle School to close for the day. In Baltimore County, an outage closed Timonium Elementary.

Charles County schools were closed all day and Worcester County shut its schools at 1 p.m. Prince George's County authorities closed their administration building for the day.

The heavy rain was produced by a strong low-pressure system from the west. Counterclockwise circulation around the low drew warm, moist air in from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean and brought it into collision with unusually cold air from Canada.

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