Monday, August 29, 2016

The Flood of July 30, 2016 in Ellicott City, MD

Raging Water at the Door
by Nancy Fayer
It began as an easy, hazy, sultry but relaxing evening in late July 2016. My husband and I were enjoying a tasty dinner with good friends at a quaint, stone- walled restaurant in historic Ellicott City, Maryland. A block away the Tiber and Hudson creeks converged and joined to form the Patapsco River, where three Quakers, the Ellicott brothers, established a community by 1775, and harnessed the energy of the river to provide energy for their flour and lumber mills, halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC. 

Then, within an hour that night, everything in Ellicott City changed. The rain came in torrents. For the next two hours the sky poured 6 ½ inches of rain, a once in a 1,000 years storm. The once-peaceful scene on Main Street became the channel of a raging flood 15 feet deep, which undermined the street and sidewalks, destroyed ten buildings and took two lives.

The storm, in its wake, left cars, homes, businesses and livelihoods in broken bits.  My husband and I were among the lucky ones. We did not have to be evacuated because we left the restaurant a half an hour before the flood trapped people there.  However our car was totaled, along with more than 200 others parked on Main Street, which were trapped among the debris, or floated into the river.

As Ellicott City residents and volunteers tackle the long work of clearing out the debris, cleaning up and rebuilding infrastructure, the long term impacts of the flood become more evident.

The U.S. National Climate Assessment, 2014 warned that “Heat waves, coastal flooding and river flooding will pose a growing challenge to the NE region’s environmental, social, and economic systems. This will increase vulnerability of the region’s residents, especially its most disadvantaged populations.”

I wonder what will happen to vulnerable people in the flooded areas of Ellicott City who aren’t being helped and whose stories aren’t being told. Among them, the minimum-wage earners who worked in the many locally owned little shops and restaurants. Even before the flood, they struggled to make ends meet. What will happen to the servers who led diners safely to the second, and then the third floor of the restaurants as the water rose, only to realize that they themselves had lost their livelihood, their car, and for some, a place to live?

This flood is not just a local or short-term concern for the three mile radius of Ellicott City. Its impacts are present in other areas of the County as the precious and finite amount of potable water is released or redirected according to climatic conditions. When Ellicott City or other river and coastal towns are inundated with intense rainfall, other parts of the country are receiving less rain and are becoming parched and tinder dry.  When natural disasters occur, disadvantaged populations are especially imperiled.

In floods or in drought, may we serve as people of faith, integrity, foresight, and courage.

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