Just days after suffering devastating flash flooding, Howard County, Md. officials were casting a wary eye at the skies again, bracing for another round of rain. The county was hit with severe flooding May 27, Memorial Day weekend, on the same scale as July 30, 2016, when record floods hit.
More than 8 inches of rain fell May 27 — an amount equal to “two months of rain in two hours,” according to AccuWeather. Video posted on social media showed cars in the county seat of Ellicott City careening down Main Street, being swept away by a wall of ravaging floodwaters.
Very preliminary infrastructure damage estimates from the latest flash flood roll in at $15 million, according to the county.
An analysis of the 2016 flood by the University of Baltimore put damages at $42 million in lost economic activity and $18 million in lost wages. Infrastructure damage and repairs stood at $22.4 million; the county requested $12 million in aid from the federal government.
County takes action during, after disaster
From the time the flooding began, the county went on high alert. Here are some of the actions the county took the day of the flooding and in the recovery phase:
- The county police department and the county fire and rescue services department assisted approximately 300 residents and 30 of those were water rescues, County Fire Chief John Butler said. The county’s 911 center fielded 1,122 phone calls during a seven-hour window. The county posted recordings of some of the calls on its Facebook page.
- County police patrolled Main Street around the clock to keep people safe and prevent looting. Police also released drone footage of devastated areas.
- County police also coordinated the pickup of 188 cars that were towed from the flooded area.
- The county Office of Consumer Protection offered ways to assess and address damage to a car if it was immersed in water. That office also released information on how to avoid home repair scams.
- Crews from the Howard County Public Works Department were busy making critical repairs to Ellicott City’s Main Street in the aftermath of the storm. A video of the crews at work was posted to the county’s YouTube channel.
- Howard County Fire and Rescue offered safety tips to those using generators.
- County emergency personnel searched flooded properties.
- The county opened a disaster assistance center at the County Department of Community Resources and Services where housing, food and water and other supplies were made available. The center featured 16 various county departments and state agencies.
- The county Health Department released a list of safety tips for those venturing into areas devastated by the flooding.
- The directors of several county departments, including the Housing and Community Development Department, took part in an information session May 30 at a local high school for residents, business owners and property owners directly affected by the flooding.
- The county extended hours at the local landfill to allow residents more time to throw out storm-related debris.
- The county set up a special page on its website with continuous updates with information on how to volunteer, a hotline phone number and where people could find cars swept away by the flood currents. Information was also available on storm debris removal, counseling for residents and information about the disaster assistance center.
- County Executive Allan Kittleman held his first news conference along with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) the same day of the flood. Kittleman’s daily news conferences were aired live on the county’s Facebook page and archived there; the press conference May 28 saw 12,000 views and received nearly 300 comments.
- The county posted information beforehand so residents could tune in to watch it live on Facebook. The county also posted useful information from local utilities, phone and cable TV companies.
- Howard County Police announced three days after the flood that a body was discovered in the Patapsco River; the man was attempting to help a woman when he was swept away by flood waters, authorities said. The county lowered its flags to half-staff to honor Sgt. Eddison Hermond of the Maryland National Guard.
- For those wanting to make donations, the county is sending people to the Community Foundation of Howard County website.
“It’s devastating for all of us, it’s a difficult scene down there,” Kittleman said May 28 during a news conference. Local business owners, he noted, “have gone through hell to get where they are today. We told them we’re there for them in any way possible.”
Kittleman faced questions about what the county did after the devastating flood in 2016. It took time, he said, to recover, complete studies on how best to tackle mitigation efforts and start on the engineering and design. “I think we’re going very quickly, trying to get things done. You have to realize that Frederick (Md.) for example, over decades, has been working on it, and that was a federal, state and local partnership. We’ll be looking at our federal colleagues to get more funding to help us with mitigation. We’re basically doing what that study had recommended to do and some of the bigger projects are going to take longer to consider.”
“To have two of these in two years is a real game-changer, and we’ve got to figure out what’s the best way to move forward,” he said.
Local businesses were just getting back on their feet after the flood that hit two years ago; most of the businesses had returned and the area saw 20 new businesses open.
“My heart breaks for them,” Kittleman said. “They are going to have to make a tough decision. I will support whatever decision they make.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the county $1 million last month for flood mitigation efforts following the flooding from 2016 that left two people dead.
The funds were expected to be used, along with $400,000 from the county, to improve a culvert in a residential area on Ellicott City’s west end. FEMA also provided more than $5 million in public assistance grant funding.
After the 2016 flooding, the county set up a website, The Path to Recovery, that shows plans and progress for flood mitigation.Hero 1