Sonny Patel's shoes squished as he walked down a dank, water-soaked hallway in the Econo Lodge he manages off Route 301 in Waldorf. When he opened the door to Room 116, the musty odor inside escaped.
The room had been stripped of all its furniture. Plastic fans were feebly drying it and more than a dozen other units at the motel, where flooding was thigh-high after severe showers Wednesday evening.
Patel, like most everyone else in drought-weary Southern Maryland, had been praying for rain. He never expected he'd get four inches.
"There was just too much water," he said Thursday. "We couldn't handle it."
Patel had to evacuate guests from the 50 occupied rooms. Some customers helped in the front lobby, trying to sweep out water with brooms. One man whipped out his digital camera and took photos to help Patel with insurance claims.
When the flooding became unmanageable, another guest hopped on a backhoe at a construction site across the street and broke up concrete to form a blockade. On Thursday afternoon, a receptionist still had water in the back seat of her car.
Patel blames poor drainage along Route 301 for Wednesday's chaos. He and other Waldorf residents say county officials haven't updated water systems to accommodate the increasing development in the area. But the Department of Public Works's position has been that if pipes are on private property, then flooding is the property owner's problem.
Pipes clogged with dead vegetation and other debris caused the flooding on Acton Lane near the Econo Lodge off Route 301, said Roy Hancock, director of Charles County's Department of Planning and Growth Management. It is the responsibility of property owners like Patel, he said, to make sure pipes are clean.
"While there was a lot of water, only a couple of places reported problems with flooding," Hancock said of the Wednesday downpours around the area. "And these were places where flooding doesn't usually occur. [Because of the clogged pipes], water ran off instead of absorbing into the ground."
Hancock said new development's contribution to flooding is negligible because state law requires builders to install storm management devices such as holding ponds or tanks, which county inspectors review every three years. Confusion emerges, Hancock said, when residents don't know whom to call for drainage problems. The town, county, or state highway administration handles problems within a road's right of way, he said. But away from a main road, landowners must keep drainage pipes shipshape.
The Trichel family didn't find the distinction consoling. They also live in the Acton Lane area, next to a county-maintained drainage ditch. Wednesday's storms washed branches, bottles and other muck into the family's front yard. They had contacted Public Works three months earlier, after they noticed erosion and buildup in the ditch. At that time inspectors told the family there was no problem.
But this week a cascade of debris landed on the Trichels' lawn, and Debi Trichel said she is fed up. Knowing which agency to call, she said, doesn't guarantee county action.
"The ditch is substandard," she said. "The runoff is worse and the drainage system is not able to handle it. While this was an unusual storm, I foresee this being a constant problem, and it's going to be an increasing problem."
Trichel took several photos of the mess and plans to mail them to county and other officials. She said Public Works employees came to the area Thursday morning, but she wants to make sure top officials hear her message.
"We usually aren't people who make issues," she said. "But this is just not safe."
CAPTION: A firefighter wades through standing rainwater outside the Econo Lodge in Waldorf. Guests were evacuated Wednesday night when the motel flooded.