Agencies, nonprofits offer aid as Southwest Baltimore reckons with flash flood damage

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A Red Cross worker holds the door for a Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief volunteer carrying supplies. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Joyce Fisher, 89, has come to Stillmeadow Community Fellowship Church to see what she can do about the soaked drywall and ruined appliances in her basement. It’s been three days since floodwaters came crashing down Frederick Avenue, filling up the bottom floor of her home near the Baltimore National Cemetery just down the road.

The water rose from the bottom of the house to the first floor, says Fisher’s daughter, Barbara Lewis. It would have climbed up the steps to the next floor if they hadn’t opened up their mother’s sliding glass door to let it spill outside.

“We had to open the front door as wide as we could get it,” Fisher says. “It was nothing but mud.”

They’re among dozens of people who stopped by Stillmeadow Church on Wednesday afternoon for an open house concerning flood recovery. Many more came by on Monday and Tuesday in the wake of Sunday’s devastating flash flood. While the flooding grabbed international media attention for the devastating toll it took on newly rebuilt old Ellicott City, it also tore through parts of Southwest Baltimore, including the low-lying neighborhood of Beechfield along Frederick Avenue.

The Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) called the open house for neighbors to get help from a host of organizations and city and state agencies in one room. The roster includes the Red Cross, Team Rubicon, Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works and the state Insurance Administration and Department of Human Services, among others.

Neighbors can also grab a meal provided by church staff and pick up a case of water, among other essentials.

OEM Director David McMillan has been working on the flood-response effort for days, and his voice is hoarse from talking when I run into him. He gazes down at Frederick Avenue, where only days earlier, right after the flood, the road was filled with debris and torn-up concrete and asphalt. It’s now clear, though still blocked off to through traffic.

His agency of 11 staffers is entrusted with coordinating agencies and private partners, including faith-based groups, to help those in need. “We can’t promise to fix up finished basements and that remediation part,” he says, “but that’s where all these other private nonprofits come into play, and they’re doing a fantastic job.”

McMillan says the major issues residents face are “the mold” and “appliance loss.”

“You have varying levels of insurance, and you have people who lost washers, dryers in some cases,” he explains.

Beyond filling homes with water and ruining appliances, the flood caused sewage backups that inundated basements with hazardous water. “Everything needs to be thrown away” in those cases, he says; in some homes, “they lost everything.”

Fortunately, no one was killed or hurt. Rescue crews used boats to save stranded residents, some of whom were stuck atop cars surrounded by floodwaters. Twenty-one people were rescued in all, with no injuries reported, McMillan says.

At a table inside the church, Red Cross disaster program specialist Darlene Scribner sits next to a woman whose basement filled up with water. “Now they’ve got the water out, so she’s dealing with the aftermath—the smell, the mud and all those different types of things that have to be cleaned up,” Scribner says.

The Red Cross assigns a case to each flood victim.

“We’re providing a service of pretty much opening a general case on them, giving them a cleanup kit and finding out any other types of areas or assistance they may be eligible for,” Scribner says. A case worker will follow up on each client, she adds, which assuages some fears. “One of the things that we keep hearing is they don’t want us to come in and then forget about them and leave.”

For seniors who can’t make it up to the church, Scribner says they dispatch volunteers to bring them meals to their door and see what types of services they need.

Fisher points out that she already went through this process in 2016, one year after she moved into her home down the street. That was when the first “1,000-year flood” ripped through Ellicott City and flood-prone areas of Baltimore.

“Two floods in three years. Could you stand that?” she asks.

The outside of a flodded basement unit at the Frederick Manor apartments. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Down the road, a basement unit at the Frederick Manor Apartments sits abandoned, the windows shattered and the door ajar. The rug inside is soaked through. It all stinks of mold and mildew.

Malinda Garland, who lives directly above the apartment, is headed up to Stillmeadow Church to get a new mop. She already ruined hers cleaning mud and dirty water out of the foyer, she says.

She shakes her head while recalling images of cars floating down the roadway, and a family being rescued by boat from their trapped vehicle. She points at a bus stop where the sign was uprooted, the hole now covered by an orange cone.

“It was terrible,” she says. “It looked like something from a horror movie.”

The recovery effort ahead seems daunting, but Scribner says any assistance from the start does some good.

“We’re all playing a part,” she says. “It’s a start. It’s giving them the opportunity to know the community is coming together to serve and help each other. And that they’re not here by themselves.”

McMillan says the city is prepared for more debris cleanup. DPW has already filled at least 10 dumpsters, he estimates, and should soon be coordinating block-by-block trash pickup in the area.

After that comes “the long-term recovery,” he says—“getting people back to 100 percent normal, which is that your house feels like home again.” He expects that will take weeks, at least.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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