Eddison “Eddie” Hermond was hanging out at a Mexican restaurant in Ellicott City, Md., on Sunday, celebrating the owner’s birthday. Outside, a rainstorm morphed into a relentless downpour, fueling what soon became a river that flooded buildings and dislodged parked cars. When Hermond spotted Kate Bowman trapped by rising water across the street, he ran to help.
“He just stepped over the ledge and he was immediately washed away,” said Bowman, 41. “It was so fast. He just got washed away real quick.”
Hermond, a 39-year-old National Guard sergeant from Severn, Md., remained missing Monday, authorities said. Family members requested privacy and said on Twitter that they “remain hopeful that he will be found safe.”
The sudden and widespread flooding, which prompted a state of emergency declaration from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), was a frustrating, all-too-soon sequel to a similar storm in the summer of 2016 that left two people dead and caused more than $20 million in damage.
“It really is hard for us to be down here for a second time, seeing the same thing over again,” said Lt. Jeff Carl of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. “It’s a deja vu feeling.”
Once again, storefronts and buildings up and down the historic downtown were severely damaged, including some homes and businesses that struggled for months to recover from the flooding two years ago.
Since then, officials have tried to insulate Ellicott City from another pounding. But they said Monday that only 30 percent of a flood mitigation project initiated after the previous flood had been completed.
Frustrated residents said the county should have made far more progress. When asked at a news conference about those concerns, Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman (R) said, “We have plenty of time to address those issues. Right now, we’re talking about people’s lives.” He added: “You can’t get that much done in 22 months. It’s not like we’ve done nothing.”
Sally Tennant, owner of Discoveries, a craft store on Main Street, said she and other residents met with officials a few weeks ago and complained that development around Ellicott City over the past 10 years has made the town vulnerable. Sunday’s was the third major flood since 2011.
“The devastation is far worse than last time,” said Tennant, whose efforts to reopen her damaged shop were chronicled in The Washington Post. “If they don’t do the mitigation they need to, we’d be idiots to reopen. We might be idiots to reopen anyway.”
Mojan Bagha, owner of Main Street Oriental Rugs, said it took him three months to fix the damage in 2016. He built a retaining wall — but water poured into his 120-year-old building anyway. He believes climate change is at least partly to blame for two so-called “thousand-year floods” in two years. Yet he is optimistic about rebuilding once more.
“This is a great community and a great country,” he said. “Like a phoenix, it will rise from the ashes. Let’s be positive. Let’s think how we can rebuild.”
Howard County officials said they received 1,100 calls to 911 between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Sunday. At least two dozen people were stranded and needed to be rescued. Baltimore Gas and Electric said 450 electric customers and 270 gas customers remained without service in downtown Ellicott City as of Monday afternoon.
Officials were planning to issue credentials for residents and business owners who need to reenter downtown while keeping out members of the public and limiting the number of people who would be in or around potentially dangerous structures.
At a briefing Monday afternoon, Howard County officials said Hermond was swept away while helping a woman search for her missing cat. But in a tearful interview with The Post on Monday evening, Bowman explained it differently.
She said the rising waters had trapped her inside her shop, Clipper’s Canine Cafe. She hastily put her cat in a carrier and escaped out a first-floor window, only to be caught by fast-moving, waist-high water.
“We were on opposite sides [of the street]. He was trying to keep me calm,” she said of Hermond. “He’s an absolute hero for what he did. . . . I just pray that they find him.”
Ellicott City was founded in 1772 at the site of a grist mill along the banks of the Patapsco River. The enclave grew into a major milling and manufacturing town. In 1830, it became the terminus of the first section of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. According to Preservation Maryland, Ellicott City has more than 200 buildings that date to the 1800s or earlier and was designated a national historic district in 1976. Its location in a valley where two major creeks converge with the river has made it particularly susceptible to flooding.
On Monday morning, at the intersection of Main Street and Court Avenue, three cars lay crumpled and wedged at odd angles under a bridge over the swollen Tiber Creek, the banks of which had been washed away. Another car a few yards away on the bank was full of mud, its trunk open.
A huge tangle of debris washed downstream by the flood hinted at lives upended. Amid splintered wooden beams lay a spray bottle of deodorant, a flower pot, a front door. A white soccer ball rested on top of a smashed silver sedan.
A hundred yards upstream, a 20-foot section of Ellicott Mills Drive had collapsed into the creek. A small stone building — reportedly the old courthouse, built in 1840 — had collapsed, its shingled roof lying on the ground.
State troopers in all-terrain vehicles and wearing helmets drove up and down Main Street and blocked anyone from entering. They warned that buildings were potentially unstable and said experts were still surveying the damage.
The Mexican restaurant where Hermond was attending the birthday celebration, La Palapa Grill & Cantina, was spared much damage because of its hilltop location, owner Simon Cortes said. Wedding guests who had been celebrating at the nearby Main Street Ballroom took refuge there.
But Cortes, like other business owners and residents, said Sunday’s flood seemed worse than the one in 2016.
Friends of Hermond blasted out his photo on Facebook and Twitter on Monday, hoping it would aid the search.
According to the Maryland National Guard, Hermond was assigned to Camp Fretterd Military Reservation in Reisterstown, Md. He was not on active duty. He joined the Air Force in 1996 and served for 10 years and then joined the National Guard in 2009.
Kenneth Josepha, a longtime friend of Hermond who is a State Department analyst from Northern Virginia, said he was not at all surprised that his buddy ventured into the floodwaters after seeing Bowman in distress.
“He’s that kind of guy,” Josepha said. “If we called him right now saying we needed help looking for someone, Eddie would be there in five minutes.”
Some residents affected by the flood visited a shelter run by the Red Cross on Monday. Among them was Loretta Moran, who returned to her house on Main Street with her husband Sunday night to find some of their tenants trapped on the house’s upper floors.
Loretta, 64, and her husband, Tim, 66, led the eight stranded tenants — including a 2-year-old child — and a dog out through their back exit.
Looking back, Loretta Moran said, she saw water as high as 15 feet.
“It was horrible,” she said of the scramble through the woods. “The ground was washing away beneath us.”
At the shelter, she said she was worried about getting medication for her husband, who is recovering from a brain aneurysm and heart attack suffered before the flood.
“Everything we need is in the trunk of our car, but they won’t let us near,” she said.
Like other residents, she wondered whether officials had done enough in the two years since the last flood: “There’s a lot that could have been done to prevent this.”