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MD town lives with river

Despite the flooded river raging a block away, friends chatted casually.

BY HEATHER MOYER | PORT DEPOSIT, MD | September 20, 2004

"I was shocked to wake up and hear a tornado go past our condo at 3 a.m."

—Deanna Tennis

Despite the flooded Susquehanna River raging not more than a block away, Deanna Tennis and friends chatted casually Monday afternoon inside Port Deposit's Main Street Station.

To Tennis, her husband Gary, and their friends Erica Quesenbery and Michael Miklas, this flood isn't anything the small town of 765 people isn't used to. "We're very used to spring and fall floods," said Gary, reclining in a chair in the small shop he and his wife own.

Port Deposit sits right on the edge of the Susquehanna River in northeast Maryland. So even when county officials evacuated the very flood prone north section of town Sunday evening because of the rising river, many other residents said they were not alarmed.

"Folks really help each other out during the floods," said Quesenbery, who is also the curator of the town's museum. "They'll make food for each other and help with cleanup."

"There's a lot of good people in this town," added Miklas.

The flooding this time was due to the remmants of Hurricane Ivan, which dumped heavy rains all along the upstream areas of the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania. In order to relieve some pressure on the Conowingo Dam, officials opened more than half of the dam's floodgates for the first time since 1996. In turn, evacuations all down the banks of the river ensued Sunday afternoon and evening.

By the end of the week most residents were back in their homes cleaning up and flood damage in the town was estimated at $1 million. The town's water and sewage treatment plants were also damaged.

While the flooding did not surprise these long-time residents, Hurricane Ivan's other side effects did. Deanna and Gary woke up to a small tornado last Friday morning. "I was shocked to wake up and hear a tornado go past our condo at 3 a.m.," she said. "It was very loud."

Fortunately, the brief storm ended up only ripping up trees in a nearby park. Two other people were killed nearby when a tornado destroyed their home. Deanna's husband Gary thinks the town got off easy after Ivan. "We had time to prepare for this, unlike some of those rain storms that come through and drop three inches of rain in a very short time," he explained. "But up north, that's where all the rain went this time."

Main Street Station's owners and clientele said they don't mean to downplay the effects of the flood, they all just agreed that the media tends to make it into a bigger story than most residents view it as. And after the Sunday evacuations, they all watched the media descend upon the town once again. Deanna described Port Deposit as a normally very quiet town, but when all the satellite trucks roll in, it's a bit of a different story.

There are many previous storms that have had big impacts on Port Deposit. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a resident's status in town was shown by how quickly their home wa cleaned out by other residents, Quesenbery said. Later, many people would schedule for their homes to be repainted just after each flood season - like clockwork. "They knew it was going to happen every season - so why not schedule it?" she laughed.

As far as more current times, the group agreed that Hurricane Isabel caused damage last year. Quesenbery said many expected Hurricane Floyd to do more than it did in 1999, but they ended up getting through the storm without too many problems.

A big ice storm of 1996 also caused a lot of damage. "That was real bad," said Gary. "With all the ice, the water had nowhere to go."

As a brief period of silence fell upon the gang of old friends, Deanna took a moment to look out the front door. Between the buildings across the street, a view of a raging river is very clear. "That water sure is flowing," she said, gazing through the screen door. "(The officials) say the river's crested, but that they'll leave some of the floodgates open for a bit."

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