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'Really big' water main floods suburb

Maryland residents continue cleanup from weekend flooding that damaged hundreds of homes.

BY ZACHARY HOFFMAN | BALTIMORE | September 24, 2009

More than 100 homes were flooded in Dundalk, Maryland, last weekend when a six-foot water main ruptured and for nearly three hours poured water into the Baltimore suburb.

Jane Haines walked outside of her house when the water began to fill the streets and walked over to her daughter’s house across the street. When she tried to return to her own home the water was already up to the front steps, nearly three feet in less than one hour.

“I looked out and there was nothing but water between me and my house,” said Haines. “A policeman in a boat went by and told me to stay where I was.”

The water filled Haines’ basement all the way to the ceiling with more than six feet of water, overturning a large freezer and left a paint can lodged in-between ceiling joists.

Saturday, her daughter, Sarah, worked at peeling pictures out of photo albums; the family photos were saved from the water by plastic sleeves in the albums.

Then, just as fast as the water rose it had receded, but some residents returning from work still were not able to reach their families until late into the night.

Peter Dent saw the burst water main on his return commute and was detoured further away from his home, where he had to wait for hours. He finally navigated back roads, hopped fences and trudged through backyards to reach his house where a wife and six children, including twin 11-month-old babies, were waiting. It was already midnight.

Sofas, a flat-screen television and the children’s musical equipment were in Dent’s basement when it was flooded. The basement served as the family room for the Dent household.

“Usually I’m pretty optimistic about things like this,” said Dent. “But right now I just don’t know.”

The American Red Cross responded with meals and walked door to door to check on residents and monitor the elderly in the area. The Maryland Insurance Administration also walked door to door to assess damages.

Other organizations arrived to provide assistance; members of Middle River Baptist Church were in the area handing out gloves, garbage bags and cold water and checked on people to see what they would need.

The local Home Depot also set up stations with water, buckets and trash bags for residents to take freely.

The closest event to this for residents of Dundalk was when Tropical Storm Isabel flooded portions of Baltimore in 2003. However, to them a natural disaster brings some expected damage; there was nothing expected from a water pipe.

“A really big pipe,” said Battalion Chief J.E. Devers, one of the incident commanders. “That’s about the biggest pipes around here.”

Devers said the 700 or so houses in the area without water damage should have power returned shortly, but the 100 houses with flood damage have to hire private contractors to replace affected electrical appliances, like furnaces and A/C units, before power can be returned to them.

“Gas and or electric services were turned off to some houses because it was unsafe due to flooding conditions,” said a Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) official.

After an electrician inspects homes and fixes the problems, a BGE representative and a county inspector must make an additional inspection to declare a house as safe, and then power and gas are restored.


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