The torrent of floodwaters that raged through downtown Ellicott City, Maryland, on Sunday took many residents by surprise. In just two hours, more than 6 inches of rain fell, and the Patapsco River rose 17 feet, submerging the green valley in muddy waters.
The power of the flash floods ripped small buildings from their foundations, lifted cars and scattered them like toys, and forced more than two dozen water rescues in the historic mill town of 65,000 people. Efforts to find and rescue at least one person continued Monday afternoon.
Although the roiling waters had receded by early Memorial Day, the scenes of devastation looked worse than they did two years ago, residents said, when what was called a "once-every-1,000-years flood" killed two people and nearly wiped out Main Street.
As officials assessed the damage on Monday, they said they were lucky in this regard: While 1,100 calls were placed to 911 during the storm and several people were hospitalized, there were no immediate reports of deaths.
Downtown shop owners "have gone through hell to get where they are today before this flood, and they're facing it all again," Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman said at a news conference Monday afternoon. "Our hearts are with them."
The aftermath is "worse, I think, than it was in July of 2016, which is kind of hard for me even to imagine, because back then we all said that it looked kind of like the set from a disaster movie," Kittleman said Sunday.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency for the community in Howard County, west of Baltimore. He is expected to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help.
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Videos shared on social media captured the catastrophic conditions: A stone cottage collapsed in the fast-moving water, forcing a man into the current. It was unclear what happened to him.
In another scene, a road completely collapsed.
And in other videos, people trapped in the currents clung to cars that were being swept away, with the water pouring into first floors of homes and buildings.
Amid the chaos, firefighters were also alerted to two buildings that caught fire — one of them potentially started by a lightning strike, Howard County Fire Chief John Butler said.