Amber Georgieff and Gayle Killen couldn’t contain their enthusiasm Monday afternoon when a yellow bulldozer scooped up muck and debris and threw it into a dump truck on Main Street in Ellicott City, Md.
“Whoo-hoo,” they yelled, smiling at each other.
It was the first sign of help from Howard County since the floodwaters subsided late Saturday, after a harrowing rush of water that killed two people and devastated the historic downtown on the Patapsco River.
Georgieff, 34, whose clothes were rain-soaked and muddied, had stopped by Killen’s 208-year-old stone house after seeing a plea for help on Facebook. She and her roommate, Kyle Roberts, 34, started shoveling the nearly three feet of mud that came through a coal chute in Killen’s basement.
Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman (R) spent the day assuring the downtown’s 1,200 residents and owners of 112 businesses that Ellicott City will rebuild.
He allowed business owners to take their first tour of the commercial district, which suffered tens of millions of dollars of damage. They had seen the images online and on their televisions — cratered streets, overturned cars, sidewalks destroyed, stores and restaurants ravaged — but Kittleman said he thought it was important for them to see firsthand the work that was ahead. In the seven blocks affected by the flood, six buildings are totally destroyed or structurally unsafe, and many others will need extensive repairs.
“It will be months, if not years,” Kittleman said of the rebuilding.
The county will have help from the state and federal government in that effort.
Kittleman was joined Monday morning by U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) who walked through some of the hardest-hit sections. She called it the worst devastation she has seen in her 30 years in office.
“It’s more like an earthquake,” Mikulski said, comparing it to the blizzards and hurricanes that have blown through the state.
Ellicott City has rebuilt after floods before, including in the wake of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. On Saturday, six inches of rain fell in just two hours, creating what the National Weather Service described as an “off-the-charts” event that led to 120 swift-water rescues, cars swept down Main Street and businesses engulfed by raging water.
Mikulski said she will move quickly to arrange for federal emergency aid. County officials first have to assess the extent of damage, which should take about three days, she said. Then Gov. Larry Hogan (R) can make the request that she said she would give to President Obama. Federal grants should be available to individual property owners, small business owners and to the government to help with infrastructure, Mikulski said.
“We’re working as Team Maryland,” she said.
Mikulski said she will always remember “the grit” that residents showed when they formed a human chain to rescue strangers and bring them to safety on Saturday night.
“My breath was taken away,” she said of watching the heroism.
Killen said she has largely remained stoic since water began to swirl around her house, washing away some of the ground under the sidewalk.
She cries not because of her loss but when strangers and friends walk to her door offering help.
Steven Skinner, 52, drove from New Market in Frederick County to lend a hand.
“It takes a village,” Skinner said as he threw a piece of rusted metal onto the heaping pile in front of Killen’s home.
Alan Minor, the head of the county emergency management center, said Howard County is receiving help from an emergency management organization from Pennsylvania. The state organization is coordinating management of the cleanup effort.
During an information session for residents and business owners affected by the flood, neighbors hugged one another and shared stories about how long it may take to rebuild. They ate donated sandwiches as they collected information about grants and temporary assistance.
Kay and David Robbins, who own an architectural firm on Main Street, said they attended to support their neighbors who were hit harder. “We’re worried about when we can tell our employees that they can come back to work,” Kay Robbins said. The company has eight employees and they have a tenant on the first floor of the building.
Elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), were among those who walked through the crowd to greet and comfort residents.
Sam Coyne, who owns a jewelry store on Main Street, said at this point he is worried about the engagement rings, wedding bands and mother-in-law and bridesmaids gifts that sit in his store.
The items are in a vault.
“I had a dozen weddings scheduled this week,” he said. “I don’t want them to have devastation just because we did.”