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Massive flooding in Md. ciy leaves man missing, destroys businesses

The Washington Post

May 29. 2018 3:59AM
Main Street is a raging river during a torrential downpour that lasted hours on Sunday in Ellicott City, Md., two years after another flash flood devastated the historic downtown. (Washington Post photo by Katherine Frey)

It was supposed to be a routine late-Sunday lunch over Mexican food. But the rainstorm outside morphed into a relentless downpour, fueling what soon became a river that dislodged parked cars and flooded buildings along Main Street in Ellicott City.

When a woman came into La Palapa Grill & Cantina and said her cat was stranded in a nearby pet store, customer Eddison “Eddie” Hermond, 39, offered to help.

“He’s that kind of guy,” said his close friend, Kenneth Josepha, a State Department analyst from Northern Virginia, whose wedding 13 years ago on Monday included Hermond as a groomsman.

“If we called him right now saying we needed help looking for someone, Eddie would be there in five minutes.”

Authorities say Hermond, of Severn, Maryland, was swept away during the flood, and remained missing on Monday.

The massive flooding, which prompted a state of emergency declaration from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, echoed a similar storm in the summer of 2016, which left two people dead.

Once again, many storefronts and buildings up and down the historic downtown were severely damaged, including homes and businesses that had only recently recovered from the flooding two years ago.

Mojan Bagha, owner of Main Street Oriental Rugs, said it had taken him three months to fix the damage in 2016. He’d built a retaining wall two years ago, but water had poured into his 120-year-old building anyway.

He believes climate change is at least partly to blame for two so-called “thousand-year-floods” in two years. Yet he is optimistic about rebuilding once more.

“This is a great community and a great country,” he said. “Like a phoenix, it will rise from the ashes. Let’s be positive. Let’s think how we can rebuild.”

Police had allowed him inside his shop on Monday, where he saw thousands of dollars of rugs soaked by the storm, he said., “worse than last time.”

But, like other locals, he wasn’t allowed to linger long enough to bring any of the merchandise out. Now he was worried it’d be ruined.

Simon Cortes, La Palapa’s owner, said his restaurant suffered some water damage, but its hilltop location prevented it from destruction. Most customers stayed inside, where Cortes offered refuge for wedding guests celebrating at the nearby Main Street Ballroom.

He, too, said Sunday’s flood seemed far worse than the one in 2016.

“After Eddie left, I saw a woman come in later who was frantic,” he said. “She was so frantic because she witnessed Eddie get swept away.”

It was the third major flood since 2011 in Ellicott City, which was founded in 1772 at the site of a grist mill along the banks of the Patapsco River. The enclave grew into a major milling and manufacturing town and, starting in 1830, was the terminus of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line.

Ellicott City was designated a national historic district in 1976, according to Preservation Maryland, with more than 200 buildings that dated to the 1800s or earlier. Its location in a valley, where the river converges with two major creeks, has made it particularly susceptible to flooding.

The National Weather Service on Sunday called the flooding an “extremely dangerous and potentially catastrophic situation.” The Howard County fire department warned people trapped on the Main Street to climb to the second floors of buildings as they awaited rescue.

Hundreds of rescuers had converged from as far away as Northern Virginia, officials said, and Howard opened an emergency operations center to manage its response.

Howard County officials estimated that flooding caused at least $22.4 million in damages.

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