Officials in Port Deposit said Saturday that 30 floodgates remained open at the Conowingo Dam as water steadily receded, though the town remained under its mandatory evacuation.
"It's looking a lot better than yesterday," said Mike Dixon, Cecil County spokesman. "The water is slowly receding, so it appears the worst has passed. But it will take some time for it to clear out."
As Port Deposit and Havre de Grace continued to deal with flooding and debris in the streets Friday, the Conowingo Dam's operator said a surge in water coming down the Susquehanna River, officials had anticipated opening all of the Dam's 50 floodgates; the most that were opened during the flooding caused by heavy rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee was 43 on Thursday night.
"We never got there, and as the event continues to unfold, the numbers have gotten better," Dixon said, adding that officials would soon begin damage assessments as the water continued to recede, though it was too early to say when clean-up efforts might begin and the town's residents could return.
Officials with Exelon Hydro, a division of Exelon Power, said in a release that it would open no more than 33 crest gates Saturday along the Conowingo Dam spillway to manage the Susquehanna River flow.
"Projections are much lower even than what we had last night," said Valencia McClure, spokeswoman for Exelon. "We're definitely trinkling down."
All but 40 residents had fled under the county's mandatory evacuation Friday, and the town opened a shelter, but closed it after only one person retreated there.
The situation was bad enough, with residents wading or paddling canoes through murky, smelly, oily water that covered backyards and reached as high as the porches of some homes along Port Deposit's Main Street.
"If it stays like this, we'll be OK. But my concern is we haven't gotten it all yet," said Kathi Leeds, who has lived in the town for more than 20 years and was checking on a friend's condominium. "A lot of cleanup is going to have to be done. It's just a waiting game now."
At 10 p.m. Friday, only 35 floodgates were open, Cecil County emergency managers said. Based on flow projections, Exelon Energy Corp. expected to open 40 at most, company officials said.
Emergency managers downstream had been told that such fluctuations were possible but should not cause major changes in water levels in the towns.
At midafternoon, Cecil County officials said they expected water levels to stay "relatively flat over the next 24 hours. We will stay in major flood stage [over 28.5 feet] until noon Sunday and not fall below flood stage [23.5 feet] until Monday."
Jim Poirier, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's forecast office in Mount Holly, N.J., said, "It's still probably going to rise some, and then recede overnight a little bit. With these fluctuations, it's probably impossible … to get a specific crest and time."
After a peak at 32.41 feet before dawn Friday, the flood was the third-highest since the dam was built, behind the record flood during Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 and a winter storm in January 1996.
Gov. Martin O'Malley has requested a federal disaster declaration for Maryland in the wake of flooding from Hurricane Irene and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. If approved, the declaration would make federal resources available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with the storm response and the recovery.
Cecil County officials reopened a shelter at Perryville High School on Friday afternoon as more people started to show up. All but about 40 people living in Port Deposit's flooded area had fled under mandatory evacuation orders, town officials said.
Gayle Wysock, the owner of C.M. Tugs Grub 'n Pub, was high and dry, preparing free meals for the people left in town and emergency workers. "It's our responsibility as a community to help out any way we can," she said. "It could be worse. We could be in [wildfire-ravaged] Texas and have nothing to come back to."
Cecil County spokesman Mike Dixon said things in town "are looking a little bit better, but we're still looking at some serious flooding."
The air in town smelled of spilled fuel, and amid the floating trash were propane tanks and home heating oil tanks. County authorities were sending swift-water rescue teams on patrol every three hours to survey the area and to check on people still in town, as well as to try to secure some of the fuel containers to prevent fire hazards.
Residents and neighbors, many carrying cameras, walked north on the railroad tracks parallel to the Susquehanna to view the water levels and damage.
Port Deposit Mayor Wayne L. Tome Sr. said police were monitoring the tracks — the only access to submerged areas of town — to prevent looting.
On Wednesday, officers arrested several people who were caught stealing guitars out of a condominium, Tome said. "Very swiftly, our police took care of it."