ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) – After yet another devastating flash flood ripped apart their historic Maryland mill town, hundreds of residents and business owners are again asking themselves: Should I stay or should I go?
Some people in picturesque Ellicott City – established in 1772 as a Patapsco River mill town surrounded by hills – say they’re determined to rebuild after Sunday’s devastation. Their hope: to pull together as a community again after the second terrible flood deluged their downtown in less than two years.
Simon Cortes, owner of La Palapa Grill & Cantina, said Monday it’s “a horrible time,” and his business took on about a foot (30 centimeters) of water. But he says the town has been through it all before, and he’ll do his part to spur another revival.
“I feel like it’s our duty to make sure that we rebuild and open back up,” said Cortes, whose restaurant is right by the spot where a 39-year-old man was swept away by Sunday’s raging floodwaters.
Others are stretched to the breaking point by the floods, which tore up streets and swept away dozens of cars in the quaint downtown of historic 18th and 19th century buildings, which sit in a ravine about 13 miles (20 kilometers) west of Baltimore.
Now the locals face yet another massive cleanup, serious economic losses and a daunting comeback.
Sunday’s torrential rains came just as the town seemed to come back stronger than ever from a dreadful July 2016 flash flood that killed two people.
Getting flood insurance around old Ellicott City was a pricy proposition before. Now, people don’t even want to think about how much it might cost, on top of the debts they’re still paying from the last time their homes and businesses were destroyed.
Nathan Sowers, owner of the River House Pizza Co., an outdoor eatery in the old mill town’s business district, said that after all the hard work rebuilding from the 2016 flood, he’s feeling a bit overwhelmed at attempting yet another comeback.
“We’ll see. It takes a lot of money and a lot of time, a lot of energy. We’ll just have to assess it,” he said, speaking near a bridge where several crushed cars were swept into a muddy tributary’s banks.
But Sowers said he saw other hard-hit locals laughing and joking about their troubles first thing Monday morning – a good sign the Maryland town will launch yet another rebirth.
But the bad news just kept coming following the torrential rains: On Tuesday morning, county authorities issued what they called a “precautionary health alert” after a sewage main broke about 2 miles (3 kilometers) away from Ellicott City’s historic main street.
The sewage overflow, which was first noticed early Monday, has been stopped. But as much as 500,000 gallons of sewage had already spilled and residents were being told to stay away from the affected area.
People were also heartbroken that 39-year-old Eddison Hermond of Severn, Maryland remains missing. He was last seen trying to help a woman rescue her cat behind a restaurant while seething brown waters surged through the downtown.
Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner said the National Guard member and U.S. Air Force veteran had been with a group at the La Palapa Grill & Cantina when a woman approached, desperately trying to rescue her pet just outside.
“He, along with some other folks, went back to assist her and unfortunately during that effort they saw him go under water,” Gardner told reporters.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said his immediate priorities are finding Hermond and assessing the condition of damaged buildings that housed shops, restaurants and families.
“If you look at the devastation and the damage, I would certainly say it’s worse than 2016,” Kittleman said. “We’ve had areas that were not even damaged at all two years ago terribly damaged this time.”
Ellicott City certainly got the worst of it. But torrential rains led to such bad flooding in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and the capital of Annapolis that Gov. Larry Hogan declared a statewide emergency to better coordinate support and assistance.
Mike Muccilli, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said it was too early to make comparisons between the two devastating floods.
In the July 2016 storm, Ellicott City received 6.6 inches (17 centimeters) of rain over a two- to three-hour period. On Sunday, the community received some 8 inches (20.32 centimeters) of rain over a six-hour period, most of it in an intense, three-hour period, Muccilli said.
“In a normal heavy rain … you wouldn’t see this amount of flooding, where you see cars floating down the road,” the meteorologist said. “This was a true flash flood.”
Associated Press writer Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report.
Follow McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd