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Tidal surge hits MD, VA

Tides surging up from the Chesapeake Bay in the wake of Hurricane Isabel caused enough damage in Maryland to warrant a federal disaster declaration.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 19, 2003

"Everything he owned was in that van."

—Tom Matteini

Tides surging up from the Chesapeake Bay in the wake of Hurricane Isabel caused enough damage in Maryland to warrant a federal disaster declaration.

Hard-hit waterfront cities -- Baltimore and Annapolis -- were still submerged Friday afternoon.

In Baltimore's Fells Point -- an area known for its trendy bars and restaurants -- the large population of homeless people was especially hard hit and may find it difficult to get aid. Baltimore City outreach workers reported that at least 26 homeless people stayed Thursday night at shelters set up at four schools.

Residents of Fells Point looked sympathetically Friday afternoon at one homeless man seated in a gazebo surrounded by pools of water that still hadn't receded. "He lives in that white van over there," said resident Tom Matteini. "But his van was full of water. He lost everything."

The man sat with his head down and his dog beside him.

"I feel really bad for him," said Matteini. "He's a nice man. Everything he owned was in that van. I didn't even know he was homeless until I saw him sleeping in his van. We were going to bring him some dog food later this afternoon so he could at least feed his dog."

Matteini -- who was carrying his own dog through three feet of floodwater -- lives in an apartment in Fells Point. "We lost a car," he said, "but we live on the fourth floor so our stuff was okay."

People on the first floor weren't so lucky, he said. "The first level was under three feet of water. Hardly anybody was notified to get out, so when high tide hit at 1 a.m., the rugs were floating and people's belongings were just all over the place."

Many renters in the area did not have insurance for their belongings, he said.

Church World Service and United Methodist Committee on Relief had representatives canvassing areas of Baltimore affected by flooding, which long-time Baltimore residents said was the worst they'd ever seen.

"I've lived here for 60 years and I've never seen it like this," said Robert Ignatowski. "Everything was under water."

Fire fighters were rescuing stranded residents throughout Thursday night after the Chesapeake poured over a protective wall and into Fells Point and Inner Harbor.

In a news conference, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said he was expecting some flooding. "We never thought we'd have enough sand bags to hold back the Chesapeake Bay," he said. City officials had used thousands of sandbags to prevent flooding from urban creeks and rivers.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Gov. Mark Warner called Isabel "the worst storm in a generation" after touring parts of the state by helicopter. "Some of the older hands ... said this is the worst storm we've seen since 1933."

Virginia was also declared a federal disaster area.

In the Virginia suburbs of Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria, people were told to boil their water before drinking it.

Old Town Alexandria's cobblestone streets were under water from a muddy tidal surge off the Potomac River. In a public statement, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said the city was in a "critical situation" and the federal government had released emergency funds to deal with the disaster.

In Wakefield, Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay, a peanut warehouse collapsed but there were no injuries.

The Washington, D.C., area was also assessing damages Friday, with more than 1 million people in that area without power. The outage is believed to be the city's largest in history, and utility officials said it could be several days before power is restored.

The federal government closed Friday for a second consecutive day. At least one death in the D.C. area was attributed to the storm.

By Friday D.C.'s metro -- which shut down Thursday -- was running again, though on a limited schedule. Area airports still saw long delays Friday.

Isabel caused at least 23 deaths, mostly in Virginia and North Carolina, before taking one day to decrease from a 100-mph-wind hurricane to a 30-mph-wind tropical storm.

Some 6 million people from North Carolina to New York lost power from Isabel - 1.6 million of them in southeastern and central Virginia. According to state reports, about 16,000 Virginians were in shelters, while some 8,000 in North Carolina were in shelters.

Along with North Carolina's coastal areas that were battered by Isablel, at least one inland community in that state -- Harlowe -- was hard hit. Thirty homes were destroyed there.

But because Isabel sped out of the country at more than a 20 mph clip, it spared many areas the worst. West Virginia got a little more than five inches of rain - but far less than the original forecast of a foot. Pennsylvania got up to 3 inches - not the 6 to 9 inches once feared.

But as rivers in all the affected states crested, the flood threat may not be over, warned emergency management officials. Utility officials also warned people not to touch downed power lines. Power companies handed out dry ice to help people preserve food, but in the Baltimore area, utility companies ran out.

By Friday Isabel had reached the Canadian border.

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