Heavy rains lead to water rescues, road detours

August 12, 2014|By Yvonne Wenger and Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

Tuesday's torrential rain — the most to fall in one day in more than 80 years — shut down portions of major roadways, stranded dozens of motorists, including some who had to be rescued, and caused dangerous flash floods throughout the region.

More than 6 inches of rain fell steadily throughout the day, leading the Orioles to postpone their game against the Yankees, gallons of sewage to spill into the Jones Falls and fliers returning to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to find vehicles stuck in flooded long-term parking lots.

Manyel Strickland was among the unlucky ones who got his car stuck along a flooded roadway.

"Look at that," Strickland, 34, said, as he pointed toward his Nissan Altima left partially submerged in water near the corner of Chester and Pine streets in Dundalk. He had tried to pass through the intersection around 11 a.m., and his car was one of at least three that remained stranded there late in the day.

No one is "getting through there," the Turners Station resident said. "It gets this bad every time it rains hard."

Carl Barnes, a meteorologist with National Weather Service, said flash floods were expected to continue through Wednesday morning.

"Even though the rain stops, people still need to use caution," Barnes said.

The last time the Baltimore area recorded more rain on a single day was Aug. 23, 1933, when 7.62 inches fell, he said. That storm and Tuesday's rain rank as the first and second rainiest days on record here, since 1870. Those designations are especially remarkable, Barnes said, considering the number of hurricanes that strike the region with heavy rainfalls.

"We were located right under the bull's-eye," Barnes said of Tuesday's weather pattern.

The rainfall was even heavier in some areas. The most — about 10 inches — fell in northern Anne Arundel County. The fire department there performed at least 26 water rescues Tuesday.

Louise Amrhein, 77, looked out the window of her Glen Burnie home Tuesday and watched her wooden picnic table and a swing set floating along the street. Amrhein, who lives on Marcy Court, said her son went outside and found the water reached up to his waist.

"You have to see it to believe it," she said.

The Baltimore Fire Department assisted in 17 water rescues, freeing people from vehicles stranded in the city, said spokesman Ian Brennan. In one case, three people were rescued after climbing on top of a disabled vehicle at North Point Boulevard and Kane Street in Southeast Baltimore.

"In the case of people driving into water, that's an entirely avoidable problem that forces us to deploy resources," Brennan said. "Every time we say, 'Turn around, don't drown,' we hope people take that to heart."

Brennan said there were a lot of calls for water rescue in a short amount of time between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. One person was taken to the hospital.

"It can be dangerous and high-paced at a moment's notice," he said.

Tuesday's rescues involved boats and the department's rescue assignment, consisting of at least one medic unit, a truck, a couple of engines and members of the Special Operations Command. The officials on hand determine the depth of the water and the rates at which it's moving and rising.

The department also fielded calls to help with about 40 flooded houses, he said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a partial activation of the city's Emergency Operations Center to bring together officials from the fire, police, transportation and public works departments to coordinate water rescues and deal with emergencies caused by the region's heavy rainfall and flooding, said Connor Scott, a spokesman for the Baltimore Office of Emergency Management.

Heavy rains shut down several roads, including the outer loop of Interstate 695 at Quarantine Road, which was submerged, creating a nine-mile backup. The Baltimore-Washington Parkway was shut down both ways between Interstate 895 and the Westport exits, while high waters led to traffic being temporarily detoured away from I-895 at the Harbor Tunnel.

Commuters were delayed along the MARC and light rail lines. Flash flood-related speed restrictions caused slowdowns on the MARC's Camden and Brunswick lines, and a catenary wire snapped between the Linthicum and North Linthicum light rail stations, although officials hadn't yet determined whether that was caused by the bad weather.

A soggy field at Camden Yards meant the Orioles will have to make up their game against the New York Yankees on Sept. 12.

The rain also swelled riverbanks in the region. One section of the Patapsco near the line for Baltimore and Howard counties saw water rushing at 749 cubic feet per second Tuesday evening, faster than any time in the last 30 years. The record was set at 607 cubic feet per second in 1984, according to Candy Thomson, a spokeswoman with the Natural Resources Police.

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