BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A Baltimore County man and a Pennsylvania woman were killed when flash floods swept through Ellicott City, Baltimore and other parts of Maryland on Saturday, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake, state and local officials said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.
About a month’s worth of rain Saturday evening sent rising floodwaters rushing through the historic city, turning Main Street into a torrent that carried away entire cars with drivers still inside, wiped out parts of roads and sidewalks, crippled homes and businesses, and had first responders working late into the night as they rushed from call to call, officials told reporters.
“We’ve never seen such devastation,” said Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, who said the flooding, which he described as the worst he’s seen in 57 years, was tragic even before authorities discovered there were fatalities.
Video posted to Facebook by Dan Somers shows the horrific scene as a man is swept away with his car.
The victims’ bodies were found by police on the Baltimore County side of the Patapsco River, according to police chief Gary Gardner, who said there were no other missing people outstanding.
Jessica Watsula, 35, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, had been visiting with family when she and other people tried to escape their vehicle and she was washed away, according to police, and was later found near the Ilchester Bridge about 2:20 a.m. Joseph Anthony Blevins, 38, of Windsor Mill, had been in Ellicott City with his girlfriend when their vehicle was carried away, police said. His girlfriend was able to get out and find safety, but Blevins did not make it.
Despite the deaths and destruction left behind, which the county executive likened to a war zone, Kittleman praised the bravery of first responders and Good Samaritans who saved a number of lives and prevented the tragedy from getting even worse.
“I would just reiterate, the folks here in Howard County — the emergency personnel, the first responders — have been amazing,” he said. “But I will never forget seeing that video of the human chain saving that person out of that car.”
“I will never forget that,” he said, “because that tells me what people in Ellicott City are like, that tells me that that’s what people in Howard County are like, that tells me that this is not going to defeat us. We’re going to become a stronger, better community because that’s who we are.”
On Sunday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who was joined by other officials surveying damage along Main Street, declared a state of emergency for the area. Dozens of state troopers have been called in to assist local authorities as they steer traffic away from crews working to pick up the pieces left behind.
“Nearly 6 inches of rain fell between 7 and 9 p.m.,” which is nearly the equivalent of a month’s rainfall, Kittleman said. Officials said the rising waters pushed the Centennial dam to the brink, but the water levels have since receded.
The ensuing flooding damaged more than 200 buildings, with 4-5 of them being completely destroyed and between 20-30 others sustaining major damage, Kittleman said. About 170 vehicles were washed away by high waters, which witnesses said were waist high at times, and are in the process of being towed to Centennial High School where residents will be able to retrieve them, starting as soon as Tuesday.
A day later, it’s too early to provide an accurate tally of the damage, Kittleman and emergency management officials said. At last check, authorities had closed off the downtown area to anyone who is not a first responder, as crews work to cleanup debris and assess which buildings still pose a hazard.
“No one other than emergency personnel are allowed in (the Main Street area),” chief Gardner told reporters.
Homes downtown are under evacuation orders and those who live there are being told to relocate, said Kittleman, who added that a “considerable number” of residents are displaced. It’s not yet clear when people will be allowed to return to their homes and businesses.
“Last night’s severe flooding devastated countless businesses and residents in Ellicott City,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings. “I applaud our brave first responders for their swift action to save dozens of residents stranded in their homes and their cars. Recovering from this disaster will be long and difficult, but I am certain that together we will rebuild all the areas impacted by the storms.”
Courtney Weglein, who captured dramatic video of the flooding, said the water got so high at one point that a man had to be carried to safety. “It was insane,” she recalled. “It was a flash flood. I literally came here, I thought we’re going to have dinner. Within five minutes, it was panic and my friend was pulling someone out of there, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Another man told WJZ’s George Solis the water came all the way up to his waist. The floodwaters swept some cars into others. Others weren’t as fortunate; one plunged nose first into a channel and another was completely totaled.
“You know, all I can say is, I’m just happy to be alive,” said Weglein.
Lieutenant Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who was also on the scene late Saturday night, said FEMA has been contacted. “It looks like a movie disaster scene,” said Boyd.
The picture wasn’t any prettier in Baltimore, where city police reported about 9:40 p.m. that Interstate 83 between Falls Road and Coldspring Lane was closed due to flooding, and advised drivers to take alternate routes. The roadway has since reopened.
City firefighters saved a driver who was stuck on top of their car near the corner of Clipper Mill and Union Road about 9 p.m. as rushing waters carried other vehicles away.
The flooding near Jones Falls Expressway was so bad, as many as 20 vehicles were stranded in the rising waters. Several nearby agencies, including Harford County Fire Rescue, were called in to help rescue those trapped inside their vehicles.
Earlier in the evening, the National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Warning for Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties until 4:15 a.m. Sunday.
In Carroll County, viewer Cindy reported heavy flooding on Baust Church Road in Union Bridge. Drivers could be seen stranded amid rushing waters on Woodstock Road in Howard County in video submitted by Kelsey.
At its peak, the severe weather knocked out power to more than 10,000 customers spread across Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City, according to BGE’s outage map, including nearly 8,000 in Howard alone.
The total number of outages has since dropped as crews work to restore power and water service to affected residents.
Howard County officials say the Roger Carter Center located in the 3000 block of Milltowne Drive in Ellicott City is open as an emergency shelter for people who need to shower, use the bathrooms or charge mobile devices.
Those affected by the storm who are in need of non-emergency assistance can call Howard County’s Police Department at 410-313-2200. The Resident Information Line is open for those impacted by flooding in Ellicott City. For assistance please call 410-313-2900.
Between 4:30-8 p.m. on Monday, Kittleman will hold a meeting for residents, businesses and property owners affected by the storm at the Ellicott City 50+ Center, located at 9401 Frederick Road, the county executive said in a news release. An informational briefing will get underway there at 5 p.m.
The Ellicott City Partnership has setup a page to assist the flood victims of Ellicott City. To learn more CLICK HERE. Those who wish to donate cash are asked to contribute to the American Red Cross, which will oversee those efforts.