It's been a year since the floodwaters propelled by Hurricane Isabel's swirling winds breached a shoreline stone wall, swept across a playground and rushed through the streets of Shady Side, deluging and damaging much of the southern Anne Arundel community.
Yet Jimmy and Doris Sullivan still sleep in a cramped eight-foot camper parked in their driveway as repairs continue on their home. And Margaret Meadows, still staying in a local rental house, is finally accepting the fact that her home, damaged beyond salvation, will soon be torn down.
A year later, residents in shoreline communities across the state -- throughout Southern Maryland, up to Annapolis and farther north to Baltimore County -- are still coping with the aftermath of what one state official characterized as "the worst disaster ever to strike Maryland."
"I'd like to be able to tell you that everyone's back in their homes, and that everyone's whole," said Audrey E. Scott, the Maryland secretary of planning. "But that's not the case. This is a very long-term recovery."
Still, there has been much progress over the past year, officials said. Scores of homes throughout Maryland have been rebuilt and repaired. Six hundred tons of soil contaminated by oil tank spills have been cleaned. And the anger and frustration that came with the destruction has been largely replaced with the steely resolve of those who know that they have no choice but to cope.
Isabel, which was technically a tropical storm by the time it hit land, ravaged much of the state and left a trail of violence and destruction. Thousands of residents lost power. Sewage systems were flooded and overflowed. Felled trees crashed into homes, landed on top of cars and blocked roadways.
In downtown Annapolis, record floodwaters inundated the Market House at the City Dock and moved up Main Street. Guests stuck in the upper floors of the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel had breakfasts brought to them by rowboat. And the statue of "Roots" author Alex Haley was almost completely under water.
For some, Isabel has become a distant memory, not much more than a powerful image in the panoramic photographs that show a flooded city. A reminder is a line on the floor at the Hard Bean Cafe in the city's downtown that marks the spot where the floodwaters reached. "Just in case you were wondering," it says by the marker, "Isabel was here, too." Even the Houdini, a 43-foot sailboat sunk by the storm near the Naval Academy, was finally removed from the harbor last month.
While Annapolis has rebounded tremendously, about 30 Anne Arundel families are still waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt and are living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And the storm, which damaged about 2,300 homes in Anne Arundel, cost the county government $3.7 million.
"On this one-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Isabel, we need to remember that many of our residents are still coping with its destruction every day," said County Executive Janet S. Owens. Referring to those still living in trailers, she added: "My heart goes out to them, and I truly hope that they are able to move back into their homes before winter."
Perhaps no place in Anne Arundel was hit harder than Shady Side. Located on a jagged peninsula that juts into the Chesapeake Bay, it is an "eclectic" neighborhood, said resident Scott Mattson: a place of construction workers and lawyers, cops and retirees -- a place populated both by longtime residents, who tell stories of the time Babe Ruth fished off the community pier, and by newcomers who visit in the summer and on weekends.
But since Isabel flooded the town playground and wrecked the pier and community house, the neighborhood has become united by common loss. "Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a tragedy for you to meet your neighbors," said Mattson, the president of the local homeowners association.
People have been particularly jittery this summer, he said, as hurricane after hurricane has brewed in the Caribbean and then headed toward the United States. "Everyone is still a little gun-shy," he said.
They have reason to be. The neighborhood still carries the sounds of drills and hammers and saws. It seems that almost every block has at least one house that's being renovated. And the storm's debris still litters some streets.
On Holly Avenue, the water rose shoulder-high for Doris Sullivan. Soon, it seeped into her house, ruining old photos, tax records and furniture passed down from two generations. Even the family's truck was engulfed.
"We lost everything," said her husband, Jimmy Sullivan.
The Sullivans spent the winter in their camper, cuddled up with extra blankets and an electric heater. The camper is not ideal, not much more than a bathroom and a bed. "But we need a place to live," Doris Sullivan said.
Jimmy Sullivan, a contractor, has done almost all the repair work on the house himself. And even though the couple have collected about $40,000 in insurance money, they have gone through their savings and maxed out their credit cards, Doris Sullivan said. Finally, about six weeks ago, they reached a turning point: New electrical wiring was installed in their home. So now they can sit inside and watch television, even if they still sleep out in the camper.
But the house remains just a shell of its former self. The floors are bare plywood. The rafters are exposed, as are the beams. The only way to the second floor is a ladder.
It will be weeks, if not months, until the entire project is finished. But Jimmy Sullivan looks on the bright side: "At least when we're done, it will all be new."
That's the attitude Margaret Meadows has resigned herself to. After the storm, there was still hope for her house. And in March, a team of 13 Navy sailors helped clear the debris from her home. But then the state sent its assessors to inspect it. They decided it was simply too far gone, Meadows said.
"There was so much damage, it would have taken so much to fix it right," said Meadows, who had lived in the house with her husband, Franklin, since 1978.
Even though it's been a "horrible, horrible year," Meadows is glad that she'll soon have a new house. "That's something to look forward to," she said.
In their rental house, Meadows and her husband have tried to piece their lives back together after losing everything. There's been help along the way. An elderly neighbor who moved into an assisted living center gave them her furniture, linens and towels. Neighbors donated gift certificates to a local grocery store and Kmart.
In a few weeks, a bulldozer is expected to knock down the house. It will be a sad occasion, Margaret Meadows said, because there are so many memories there. But she said she won't be too upset. When her old house hits the ground, she'll be that much closer to having a new one. She can hardly wait.