ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) – One person was missing after flash flooding tore down historic Main Street in Ellicott City, Maryland, and left a community heartbroken at seeing severe damage less than two years after another devastating flood.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said Monday morning that his priorities are finding the missing man and assessing the condition of buildings that house shops, restaurants and families.
“We’re certainly making every effort to locate that individual,” he said.
The man was reported missing to police about 12:30 a.m. Monday, but has not been seen since about 5:20 p.m. at the height of the flooding, when raging, brown waters ripped through the town. Kittleman said the missing man is in his 40s and does not live in the historic district, but he did not identify him further.
The area remained blocked off Monday, even to residents and business owners, as Kittleman surveyed the debris.
“If you look at the devastation and the damage, I would certainly say it’s worse than 2016,” he said. “We’ve had areas that were not even damaged at all two years ago terribly damaged this time.”
At a news conference Sunday night, Kittleman and Gov. Larry Hogan vowed to help people rebuild their lives again.
“We will be there for them as we were in 2016,” Kittleman said.
Hogan promised “every bit of assistance we possibly can.”
“They say this is a once every 1,000-year flood and we’ve had two of them in two years,” Hogan said.
Sunday’s flooding swept away parked cars in the city, which sits along the west bank of the Patapsco River, about 13 miles (20 kilometers) west of Baltimore.
Jessica Ur, a server at Pure Wine Cafe on the city’s Main Street, told The Baltimore Sun that she watched as gushing waters swept three or four parked cars down the street.
“It’s significantly higher than it was before,” she told the newspaper, comparing the floodwaters to those of 2016.
Mike Muccilli, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Virginia, said Sunday it was too early to make comparisons between the two floods. But he said both were devastating. 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 nearly 8 inches (20.32 centimeters) of rain over a six-hour period, but most of it fell during an intense, three-hour period, Muccilli said.
“In a normal heavy rain event, you wouldn’t see this amount of flooding, where you see cars floating down the road,” Muccilli said. “This was a true flash flood.”
Some people reported hearing a blaring alarm during the flooding. Others said they gathered in the second story of a building and anxiously watched the seething waters. One sight during the flood: a handmade, white flag hung from an upper story of a Main Street building bearing the letters SOS.
“If you are trapped, we are coming,” the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services tweeted at one point.
Ellicott City has been rebuilding since the 2016 flooding damaged and destroyed businesses. Local officials recently said 96 percent of the businesses were back in operation and more than 20 new businesses had again opened in the Main Street area. Just two weeks ago, Hogan announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had awarded the state and county more than $1 million to pay for projects aimed at reducing the flood risk in areas around Main Street.
Some are already asking whether enough was done after the last flood to prevent a similar catastrophe. Hogan said temporary improvements were in place and more things were in the works to reduce the community’s vulnerabilities. But he said big changes take time, and no one expected such a huge flood so soon after 2016.