Preliminary estimate for Frederick Avenue flood damages more than $2M, enough for federal assistance

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A stretch of Frederick Avenue on May 30, recently cleared of debris from a flash flood on May 27. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Ten days after a flash flood ripped through a low-lying section of Frederick Avenue, residents are still cleaning up and piecing their lives back together. On Wednesday morning, Baltimore’s director of emergency management offered a preliminary financial estimate of the damages caused by the heavy rains, which he said should be enough to warrant federal help with the ongoing cleanup.

“We’re a little over $2 million right now, which would put us over the threshold by which we could get assistance from the federal government,” David McMillan, who heads the Office of Emergency Management, told reporters at Mayor Catherine Pugh’s weekly pressing briefing.

The state will need to apply for the funds, McMillan noted, as it was Gov. Larry Hogan who called a state of emergency for all of Maryland shortly after the May 27 flash floods that struck Ellicott City, Catonsville, Baltimore and other areas.

“That’s a whole process that we’re leaning on [the Maryland Emergency Management Agency] to help us navigate,” McMillan said.

Hogan administration spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said in an email Wednesday that the “the state has been in close contact with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and federal officials about potential federal assistance, both in the short term and longer term.” Hogan spoke with Vice President Mike Pence about the matter last week, and has told MEMA to “work closely” with FEMA regional regional representatives “to seek all available assistance.”

MEMA spokesman Jorge Castillo said teams are still assessing damage to flood-hit areas, and both the state and federal emergency management agencies must work with local jurisdictions “to validate these amounts.”

“This is done so that, as a state, we can show the complete and total amount of damages and stand the best chance possible of having the request approved.”

The process is in its “final phases,” Castillo added, after which Hogan could request a Major Disaster Declaration from the Trump administration via FEMA.

The torrential afternoon rain sent a river down Frederick Avenue in Beechfield and the nearby area, leaving dozens of homes flooded–many with water seven feet high and filling up entire basements–and some dwellers stranded on top of cars in the storm.

Pugh said at her presser today that she was down on Frederick Avenue the evening after the waters receded, and “people were just up in arms.” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford also stopped by the area, she said.

“We needed them to see how the streets—I mean, holes in the streets, pieces of the streets were floating down, which banged up against people’s cars, pushed trees underneath folks’ cars.”

Within 24 hours, agencies had acted quickly to move debris and displaced pieces of road out of the way, she said.

“Anybody who’s in this business of emergency management recovery can tell you that’s very fast,” McMillan added.

City and state agencies, private nonprofits and faith-based groups set up camp at Stillmeadow Community Fellowship Church on Monday, May 28, in the wake of the disastrous flood to administer aid to neighbors. That included everything from meals and bottled water to water removal and debris cleanup to advice for how to file an insurance claim for flood damage at home.

The OEM director said 21 people in all were rescued from the flood, with no injuries or deaths. He credited firefighters and other emergency personnel for being there at the right time.

“It was a very serious incident, and we’re blessed that no one was injured or killed,” he said. “But while God blessed us to get out of that, you need well-trained experts who are brave and efficient and effective at doing their responsibilities, under fire in these kinds of situations.”

The Sun reported Tuesday that the city plans to spend $4 million in excess revenue from the newest wave of traffic cameras to pay for otherwise unfunded Baltimore City Fire Department overtime expenses. While city law says excess revenue from traffic cams must be used for public safety purposes, cycling advocates and Councilmen Ryan Dorsey and Brandon Scott criticized the decision to spend the money balancing BCFD’s budget instead of expanding safe transportation options for pedestrians and cyclists.

“You should be spending more money that’s derived from cars, which are a danger to people and are a detriment to the economic welfare of the city, to promote other modes of transportation,” Dorsey told the paper.

Added Scott: “We have dire transportation needs in the city of Baltimore. What we’ve been told for years is that traffic camera revenues are going to traffic safety.”

The Board of Estimates approved the financial move Wednesday morning. The City Council will still need to approve the expense.

Henry Raymond, the city’s director of finance, told reporters Wednesday that the allocation toward BCFD overtime “was the necessity for the $4 million supplemental” revenue.

Pugh chimed in that “the flooding is a perfect example” of the need for unplanned overtime for emergency personnel. She also pointed to an incident from Tuesday night that left emergency responders searching for hours for a 19-year-old construction who became trapped and was later found dead in a trench in Clifton Park—he was identified as Kyle Hancock of Glen Burnie on Wednesday—and to “more fires than usual” plaguing Baltimore this year.

“These are things that we have to do as a city,” Pugh said. “We have to respond to the citizens.”

This story has been updated.

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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