From quarter-sized hail to knee-deep water in the street, Steve and Beth Baker witnessed the worst of Tuesday night’s storm from their front porch in the 900 block of North Market Street.
As awe-inspiring as it was to behold the weather, what happened on the street was what resonated the most with the couple as they returned to their porch Wednesday morning and recounted what they’d seen. Residents of the city for 30 years, the Bakers said they were shocked by how many drivers they saw either ignoring or trying to sneak past an emergency vehicle blocking North Market Street at West 10th Street.
Twice, the couple saw fire crews respond to rescue stranded drivers on North Market down near Ninth Street. As each car passed, the Bakers could only shake their heads in disbelief.
“There was this little white Toyota parked across the street over there, and every time a car would pass, you would see it rise up like it was surfing a wave,” Beth Baker said. “It was just like the ocean. ... You could see a wave of water just sweep up the street and into our yards.”
Looking back, Steve Baker struggled to decide whether he was more upset about the danger the drivers placed on themselves and first responders or with the contributions each passing car made in pushing floodwater into his and his neighbors’ homes.
Next door, Andrea Smith still had about 2 feet of water in her basement at about 8:30 a.m. The pump her landlord installed after severe flooding in September 2015 had been working nonstop since about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, but the amount of water was simply too much.
Even worse, Smith’s car, parked in the alley to the rear of her home, was lifted by floodwater and left waterlogged after last night’s storm.
“I’ll move my car whenever it’s supposed to get bad, but it was such a beautiful evening [Tuesday] I forgot about it for a little,” Smith said. “And then when it was raining and hailing I kept thinking, ‘I’ll come out and move it when it hits a lull,’ but a lull never came.”
Across the street, the YMCA was running from six to a dozen pumps to remove the estimated 10 feet of water that had seeped into the building overnight.
For Chris Colville, the center’s chief executive officer, the morning’s recovery effort was reminiscent of the flooding that hit the center Sept. 29, 2015, ultimately causing about $1.7 million in damage. This time, Colville said she expects the damage will be closer to $500,000.
The damage was not quite as severe this time thanks in large part to the precautions the center implemented after 2015, including a pump system that prevented Tuesday’s floodwater from pouring down the stairs and into the basement. The center also now has flood insurance, which it did not have in 2015, Colville said.
“So this time it’s less about the money and more about the logistics and not having people displaced for as long as possible,” Colville said. “Because a lot of people rely on us for critical services, including child care.”
Aldermen Ben MacShane and Roger Wilson both visited the YMCA on Wednesday to see the damage and ask Colville how the city could help classes and services back in operation more quickly.
MacShane’s 2-year-old daughter, Eve, takes swimming lessons and gymnastics classes at the YMCA, which MacShane said made him all the more sympathetic to the plight of other parents who rely on the center.
The aldermen also said they intended to speak with city staff, specifically stormwater and drainage experts as well as city engineers, to prevent buildings from flooding in the future. Wilson pointed back to the flooding that devastated the city in 2015 as a sign that such incidents were not flukes.
“This is not a ‘100-year flood’ that we’re having,” Wilson said. “This is something that we need to address.”
City officials were already looking into studying what type of infrastructure is in place and whether any repairs or upgrades need to be made, said Mayor Michael O’Connor, who visited the Y along with Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford later on Wednesday.
Flooding also occurred at the William R. Talley Recreation Center, closing the facility and canceling all programs there Wednesday. The basement of City Hall flooded as well, O’Connor said.
The city’s wastewater treatment plant was at risk of further overflowing Wednesday night, and a news release from Patti Mullins, the city’s public information coordinator, asked that residents refrain from unnecessary water use, such as washing clothes or dishes. Residents who experience a sewer backup should contact the Department of Public Works switchboard at 301-600-1440.
City officials were also asking residents to stay out of the city’s parks, including the city’s dog park on Carroll Parkway, which they closed indefinitely on Wednesday.
Officials designed the park system to control flooding downtown after the infamous 1976 flood that caused millions in damage. O’Connor explained that many parks, including Baker Park, are flood plains designed to take on water during large flood events.
“According to staff, it absolutely did exactly what it’s supposed to do,” O’Connor said of the flood control system along Carroll Creek.
O’Connor also declared a state of emergency in the city Wednesday evening due to the storms. A city-issued press release said the declaration will make the city eligible for state and federal emergency assistance and will stay in effect until the mayor lifts it.
The county’s emergency communications center received more than 300 calls for service Tuesday night, including reports of at least 40 flooded buildings, county spokeswoman Vivian Laxton said.
Water damage was not restricted to the downtown area, as evidenced by a group of Home Depot employees using a vertical lift-loader to remove mud and debris from the parking lot of the McCain Drive store.
Nearby, residents streamed in and out of the store, buying supplies to repair their homes or prepare for the steady rainfall that was expected for most of the rest of the week. Carrying a broken sump pump and a cut drainage pipe, Middletown resident Steve Biron said he narrowly avoided disaster Tuesday night.
“The water behind my house was seeping up to my door and then [the pump] froze up so we ended up having to bail water out of the sump hole for a few hours last night,” he said. “The water was running underneath the concrete slabs of the floor, so I’m really hoping to get this fixed.”
Staff writer Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.