Business owners, residents mopping up after rains flood North Baltimore

  • The enrtrance to Whole Foods in Mount Washington Mill is blocked off with a sign after heavy rain flooded the shopping center.
The enrtrance to Whole Foods in Mount Washington Mill is blocked… (Staff photo by Larry Perl )
May 01, 2014|By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

B.G. Purcell, owner of caramel maker Mouth Party, would like to stay where she is, in the Clipper Mill center of business and art studios.

"It's a great space," she said.

It didn't look so great on Thursday, however. Mouth Party, which recently celebrated its first anniversary on Clipper Mill Road in Woodberry, was a flooded disaster zone of wet boxes and ruined equipment.

"Unfortunately, I think it's totaled," said Purcell, as she hugged well-wishers and commiserated with fellow Clipper Mill business owners, including Julie Sawyer, who works in media sales at Press Box, a sports publication. Its offices too were flooded..

"We have a lot of signed sports books," Sawyer said mournfully. "We're throwing it all out into the center."

Clipper Mill wasn't the only area affected by unusually heavy, long-lasting rain.

The shopping center Mount Washington Mill, at the low-lying, flood-prone intersection of Falls Road, Smith Avenue and the Kelly Avenue bridge, was flooded so badly that anchor Whole Foods blocked its entrance with a sign that said, "Temporarily closed," and center owner Sam Himmelrich said it was the worst flooding he had seen in more than 25 years of ownership.

"We're trying to help the tenants get back on their feet," Himmelrich said, adding that anchor Whole Foods was expected to re-open later Thursday. "We're doing the best we can."

Rain was also believed to have exacerbated longtime structural issues with a retaining wall on 26th Street, causing it to collapse Wednesday and sending cars, sidewalks and street lights onto the CSX tracks below.

Nineteen homes were evacuated, including Erica McCullough's house in the unit block of East 26th.

"It was scary," said McCullough, who owns a home-based cleaning company, Living Legacy. "I have two small children."

Daughter Camille, almost 2, went upstairs to take a nap, looked out the window and said, "Whoooo."

Camille's brother, Carter, 8, looked out and said, "Oh my God, the cars are sinking."

Carter grabbed the phone and called 311. His mother took the phone from him and spoke to the operator. Within minutes, McCullough was running out of the house, knocking on her neighbors' doors.

McCullough, a 13-year resident, said area residents have been urging city officials for years to fix infrastructure problems that had caused the sidewalk and roadway to crack and crumble.

The Sun reported that since at least the 1990s. residents have expressed concerns about the integrity of the wall, noting that sidewalks along 26th Street were sinking, and that in 1994, CSX and city officials debated who was responsible for repairing a cave-in at 26th Street and Guilford Avenue.

"Each day you would come out and see that the fissures in the street were a little larger," she said.

And she said traffic on 26th, a cut-through for many people, has increased noticeably in recent years.

Only one side of the street, with no houses or businesses on it, was affected, and there were no injuries reported, but McCullough, 38, said she still worried about the houses on her side of the street, because she said clay and sand under the street had been separating from the road surface.

McCullough said Thursday that she still was not allowed back in her house, but that a lot of family members and clients had offered to put her and the children up.

First look

Matthew Bradby, program manager for the Charles Village Community Benefits District, a special taxing district, got one of the first close-up looks as the landslide started.

Bradby said he was working in his office two blocks away Wednesday at 3 p.m., when Howard Williams, a sanitation employee of the special taxing district, told him about the massive cave-in and showed him cellphone camera video footage.

"You can see it as it's sinking. We got it (on video). It went straight down," Bradby said.

Bradby said he quickly called 911, and that he and three other employees rushed to the scene, where they banged on residents' doors, told employees of area businesses to leave, and told officials at nearby Margaret Brent Elementary School to keep students indoors, for fear that they would be inquisitive and run over to see the damage.

"I ordered my guys to block off (26th) Street with (a benefits district) truck," Bradby said. He said people he told to move were quick to obey, because, "They know me around there. If I tell them to move, they pretty much listen."

Bradby said he also called CSX, which owns railroad tracks that were damaged in the cave-in, and told CSX officials to stop any trains that might be on the way.

"Everybody had a job to do and everybody did it," said Bradby.

The Govans resident was proud of their quick action.

Bradby said in retrospect the sidewalk on 26th Street was an accident waiting to happen. It had been crumbling for some time and Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents the area, "had been trying to get that resolved," Bradby said.

"I guess the rain finished it," Bradby said.

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