Angie Tersiguel was already familiar with the bureaucracy of disaster. She had done all this before, the waiting for official permission to visit her restaurant, the escorted tour, the first glimpse of ruin. It was all the same two years ago when a massive flood demolished the historic downtown of Ellicott City, Md.
So the owner of Tersiguel’s thought she was ready after another flood battered the same blocks over the weekend, leading to the death of Eddison “Eddie” Hermond, a National Guard sergeant whose body was recovered Tuesday after he was swept away trying to assist a stranded shop owner. Store owners were all given special credentials and allowed back into the flood zone Tuesday. State and county officials watched closely, warning against unstable storefronts and all-but-collapsed sidewalks.
“I thought I was prepared,” Tersiguel said, standing outside her French restaurant, a dripping trench where the sidewalk used to be. “But I couldn’t believe it when I got inside.”
It was three floors of soggy devastation, from a debris-filled basement littered with olive-oil bottles to a second floor filled with her employees drenched uniforms. Many of her workers had rushed during the deluge to move a wine collection dating to the 1970s to higher floors.
The main floor was a tossed salad of tables, shattered kitchenware, an icemaker split in two.
And on every surface: “The mud! I didn’t expect to see so much mud everywhere — that was new.”
“The mud, right?” echoed her next-door neighbor Nicholas Johnson, owner of Su Casa home furnishings, a dripping squeegee in his hand. “There wasn’t this much mud in the water last time.”
They are serial survivors, the business owners in Ellicott City’s chaotic downtown flood zone. Just two years after climbing out from a once-in-a-millennium cataclysm, many of the same entrepreneurs are reliving the worst-case scenario again.
“I guess we are gluttons for punishment,” said Tersiguel, who spent about $120,000 rebuilding after the last flood. Her family had another Ellicott City restaurant burn down in 1984.
But the latest muddy apocalypse taught her that every disaster is unique, even if the hard labor of making things right feels very much the same. She had to temporarily lay off her staff Monday, after thanking them profusely for rescuing the wine.
They will get their jobs back soon, she hopes.
“Absolutely,” she said. “We own that building. Walking away from our structurally sound building is not an option.”
Howard County authorities Tuesday night described a recovery operation swinging into practiced gear. County Executive Allan H. Kittleman said drivers had made more than 225 escorted trips with certified business owners, allowing them to inspect their stores and collect valuables. All but 10 of almost 200 vehicles had been pulled from the culverts and ditches where the receding waters had deposited.
“I think it’s worse than in 2016,” Kittleman said at a news conference, calling the flood a second “gut punch” for the store owners. He declined to address complaints from many residents that not enough was done after the last flood to mitigate the risks from development on the city’s steeply pitched hills. “We’ll have the answers when the time is appropriate,” he said. “Right now were talking about the response and how we can help people.”
Johnson, who lost more than $300,000 in inventory and revenue in 2016, isn’t sure what the damage will be this time. He priced out flood insurance after the last one, but the premiums each year amounted to more than his losses.
“We thought it would be okay because we had just had a 1,000-year flood,” he said. “No one expected 22 months later to have a second 1,000-year flood.”
That dismay and disbelief was common up and down Main Street as owners examined the “Groundhog Day” destruction of their businesses. They had been sure that one catastrophe had inoculated them, at least for a while, from another.
“It sucks,” Sally Tennant declared about the one-two punch to her business, Discoveries. The Washington Post documented her laborious efforts to rebuild after the 2016 flood.
Now, standing on a street filled with beeping bulldozers and emergency relief workers, she was overwhelmed. “The feeling I have is dread,” she said. “I don’t even want to go back in there.”
The damage was worse farther down Main Street, now a steep slope of blown-in doors and blasted-out windows.
One man, who declined to be interviewed, bailed water out into the canyon that had opened in front of a shop named A Journey from Junk. A giant plastic Santa stared balefully down from the second floor of Attic Antiques ’N Things.
It would take a stepladder to bridge the chasm that had opened between the street and the front door at Salon Marielle. And a few doors along, a tree trunk had battering-rammed another shop, filling the window socket with a van-size root ball.
Angelina Brannigan looked with awe at the gaping front of her dress shop, A Divaz Boutique. She had been inside when the storm started, watching as the water out front grew from runoff to river, filled first with trash, then cars, then chunks of cement.
First, the waters burst through the rear of her shop, tossing display shelves and climbing up the interior walls. Then the flood from Main Street took out her front door, squeezing her in a pincer of rushing currents.
When the water neared the top of her plate-glass front window, she climbed on a desk, peeled away some of the ceiling tiles and, throwing the strap from one of her display handbags around a sprinkler pipe, held herself clear of the water.
“I think I’ve seen too many survival movies,” she said.
As the owner of a business in downtown Ellicott City, she seems to be living in one.