Nervousness and fear were evident in the voices of the 911 callers, trapped in rising waters in Ellicott City, Md., which was devastated over the weekend by major flooding for the second time in two years.
One woman at a tea parlor and gift shop asked the dispatcher, “Are we going to die, ma’am?”
The dispatcher replied: “I’m going to do my best, so that does not happen.”
The Howard County Police and Fire departments released a recording of some of the 911 calls they received Sunday from those trapped during flooding in the historic town about 30 miles northeast of Washington. Officials said dispatchers at the county’s rescue departments answered 1,122 calls on Sunday in a seven-hour period from 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Sgt. Eddison Alexander Hermond, 39, of Severn, Md., who was an Air Force veteran and Maryland Army National Guard member, died after he was swept away trying to rescue a woman who had become stranded in her shop along Main Street.
He had been with friends at a nearby restaurant, La Palapa Grill & Cantina, where the owner was celebrating his birthday. Hermond’s body was found Tuesday.
During the roughly 11 minutes of 911 calls that were released, more than six people called to report rising water. Many sounded scared, and some cried. Even in the time of crisis, callers and dispatchers answered each other with the greeting of “Hon.”
Ellicott City has a population of about 65,000. It was founded in 1772 at the site of a grist mill and sits along the banks of the Tiber and Patapsco rivers. In the 1800s, it became the terminus of one part of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
Located in a valley where two creeks converge with a river makes Ellicott City vulnerable to flooding. It has grown over the decades into a popular tourist spot with restaurants, historic venues and trinket shops.
One caller told the dispatcher she could see a woman on Main Street “standing on top of her counter screaming,” as the water rose. Nearby, she said two kids were stuck on the second floor of a bank building because of water on the first floor.
“This is worst than the last one,” the caller tells the dispatcher, referring to the summer of 2016, when Ellicott City suffered devastating flooding and two people died. That flood caused more than $20 million in damage, officials said.
For many in the town, Sunday was a repeat of that earlier disaster.
The desperation was clear as one woman called 911 Sunday from Tea on the Tiber, a tea parlor and gift shop in downtown Ellicott City. She said she and others were on the third floor as the first floor was submerged.
The dispatcher told her to stay put and assured her, “I’m trying to get somebody to you as fast as I can.”
Another caller reported two people were trying to cross Main Street near the Tiber River, and the water is “almost above their head.” Then the caller said he could hear and see rescue vehicles coming.
One woman called dispatchers crying. She said she was trapped along with eight others on the second floor of her home and had helped to get shopkeepers on the first floor upstairs and inside her home safely.
“We have a baby,” the caller said.
A wedding planner called to report the 250 guests at her event in the Main Street Ballroom had to seek refuge upstairs in the La Palapa restaurant where Hermond, the National Guardsman whose body was found Tuesday, had been with friends.
“It has flooded the whole thing,” the wedding planner told the dispatcher. “Many people’s cars have been washed away.”
The dispatcher told her to get “everybody to higher ground.”
Briefly, the wedding planner put the dispatcher on hold and then realized help had arrived outside the door. She turned back to the phone and said, “They’re here.”