ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — A man remained missing Monday after flash flooding tore down a historic main street in a picturesque Maryland town and left a community heartbroken at seeing more devastation less than two years after rebuilding from another massive flood.
The missing man — 39-year-old Eddison Hermond of Severn, Maryland — was last seen trying to help a woman rescue her cat behind a restaurant while churning, brown waters ripped through Ellicott City’s flood-prone downtown.
Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner said the missing National Guard member and U.S. Air Force veteran had been with a group at the La Palapa Grill & Cantina. He said Hermond was trying to help others by holding a door open as brown floodwaters coursed through the restaurant when a woman approached, desperately trying to rescue her pet just outside.
“He, along with some other folks, went back to assist her and unfortunately during that effort they saw him go under and water and not surface,” Gardner told reporters, adding that the others made it out of the area safely.
Simon Cortes, who owns the restaurant, described Hermond as “a super nice guy,” who was frequently out in the community showing support when it worked to rebuild from the devastating flooding that ravaged the former mill town in July 2016.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said that his immediate priorities are finding the missing man and assessing the condition of damaged buildings that housed shops, restaurants and families.
For now, the Main Street area remained blocked off Monday, even to residents and business owners, as teams of authorities and engineers surveyed the heartbreaking mess.
“If you look at the devastation and the damage, I would certainly say it’s worse than 2016,” Kittleman said. “We’ve had areas that were not even damaged at all two years ago terribly damaged this time.”
Ellicott City certainly got the worst of it. But torrential rains led to such bad flooding in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and the capital of Annapolis that Gov. Larry Hogan on Sunday declared a state of emergency statewide in order to better coordinate support and assistance.
With floodwaters receded Monday, revealing the damage in Ellicott City, residents and business owners could see the scope of the next challenge ahead of them: They face another mammoth cleanup and another daunting comeback.
Local resident Nathan Sowers, owner of the River House Pizza Co., an outdoor eatery in the old mill town’s business district, said that after all the hard work rebuilding from the destructive 2016 flood he’s feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of tackling yet another revival.
Asked whether he’s committed to building back anew he said: “We’ll see. It takes a lot of money and a lot of time.”
But Sowers also said he saw other hard-hit locals laughing and joking about their troubles Monday morning — a good sign the Maryland town will launch yet another rebirth from raging floodwaters.
Sunday’s dramatic flooding tore up streets and swept away dozens of parked cars in the city, which sits in a ravine on the west bank of the Patapsco River, about 13 miles (20 kilometers) west of Baltimore.
Mike Muccilli, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Virginia, has said it was too early to make comparisons between the two floods. But he said both were devastating. In the July 2016 storm, Ellicott City received 6.6 inches (17 centimeters) of rain over a two- to three-hour period. On Sunday, the community received some 8 inches (20.32 centimeters) of rain over a six-hour period, but most of it fell during an intense, three-hour period, Muccilli said.
“In a normal heavy rain event, you wouldn’t see this amount of flooding, where you see cars floating down the road,” Muccilli said. “This was a true flash flood.”
During the flood a handmade, white flag hung from an upper story of a Main Street building bearing the letters SOS.
“If you are trapped, we are coming,” the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services tweeted at one point.
Ellicott City has been methodically rebuilding since the 2016 flooding damaged and destroyed businesses. Local officials recently said 96 percent of the businesses were back in operation and more than 20 new businesses had again opened in the Main Street area. Just two weeks ago, Hogan announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had awarded the state and county more than $1 million to pay for projects aimed at reducing the flood risk in areas around Main Street.
Some are already asking whether enough was done after the last flood to prevent a similar catastrophe. Hogan said temporary improvements were in place and more things were in the works to reduce the community’s vulnerabilities. But he said big changes take time, and no one expected such a huge flood so soon after 2016.