For employes of Bethesda landscape nursery Bloomin' Newman's, it felt as if Hurricane Agnes had blown through again.

Last week, a water main broke near River and Burdette roads, sending trees, shrubbery, mulch and a lot of topsoil into a river of debris that floated down River Road.

The water, estimated by property owner Al Battista to be nine feet high, did about $100,000 worth of damage.

Battista was awakened at 5 a.m. by a call from a friend who noticed "a lot of water in the yard." When the water was turned off by a work crew about four hours later, Battista surveyed the damage to his three-plus acres at 7405 River Rd.

Battista said he felt bad for George Newman, a longtime friend who owns and runs the nursery on Battista's land. "He's out there now spreading gravel. It's a heartbreaking story. It was kept like a little palace . . . . You work hard for something and it's like somebody dropped a bomb on you."

Newman said, "It was like the Mississippi River . . . . It really knocked us back because it was a week before Christmas season started. A lot of things can't be replaced until next spring: rhododendrons, junipers, all the greenhouse material . . . who knows where they ended up. We also lost certain landscape jobs. More than 15 men worked double time and through Thanksgiving to reopen."

Marjorie Johnson, public affairs officer for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, said the yards of two residential properties also were flooded. Asked if Newman or the residents could expect any reparation from the WSSC for damage caused by the break, Johnson said, "We have a clause in the Maryland code that absolves the commission of liability unless the commission has prior knowledge of fault in the system."

She said the WSSC was assisting the nursery by providing workers to help restore the greenhouse, haul mud and silt, and spread gravel.

A week and 300 tons of gravel after the flood, Bloomin' Newman's reopened for business.

"At least the poinsettias are okay," said Battista. He reported that a customer, surveying the damage days after the break, urged him to look at the bright side. "He told me: 'You shouldn't feel so bad. At least you won't have to water for a while.' "