Flooding from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee drove hundreds of mid-Atlantic residents from their homes Thursday less than two weeks after Hurricane Irene soaked the national capital region. At least three people died in floodwaters in Maryland and Virginia.
High water and storm damage closed scores of roads, including part of heavily traveled U.S. 301 in rain-weary southern Maryland and the Capital Beltway in northern Virginia. The foul weather slowed commuter trains in the Baltimore-Washington area and closed some schools and county offices.
Along the Susquehanna River in northeast Maryland, Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome ordered a mandatory evacuation by 8 p.m. of most of the town's 1,000 residents as operators of the massive Conowingo
Dam, about seven miles upstream, opened spill gates. Forty-three of the 50 gates were open late Thursday, with the rest expected to open Friday afternoon.
Hundreds more were ordered to evacuate in low-lying areas of Havre de Grace, where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. Voluntary evacuations were recommended in Perryville, across the Susquehanna from Havre de Grace . Ten people were in a shelter in Perryville, and the Maryland National Guard sent four vehicles to Port Deposit to aid in evacuations.
The river was running quickly past Havre de Grace, pushing a large buoy in the shipping channel periodically under the surface, with it bobbing at a sharp angle in the current as debris from upstream sped by.
People gathered on the banks to watch the river rise.
Cheryl McCullough and her mother Cleta McCullough were walking along the waterfront taking photographs with Cheryl's cell phone.
The floodwaters had just begun to encroach along the marinas and condominiums.
"All the high-dollar places," Cleta McCullough remarked.
Emergency shelters were opened at high schools in Perryville and Aberdeen as officials prepared for what the National Weather Service said could be the highest river level in 39 years. The agency predicted the river just below the dam would crest Saturday morning at 35.7 feet, second only to the 36.8 feet measured after Hurricane Agnes in 1972. That storm damaged or destroyed 24 single-family homes and 40 apartments, according to the Cecil County Red Cross.
"This could be the most significant flood event in history since the dam's been built," Tome said. It was completed in 1928.
The hydroelectric dam's owner Chicago-based Exelon Corp. said it had opened 38 of the 52 spill gates by late Thursday afternoon and expected to have 50 ajar by midday Friday. The remaining two gates are for emergency releases and may also be used, spokesman Bob Judge said.
Port Deposit was nearly empty by late afternoon. But Roger Kerr, grilling some steaks outside his apartment building, said he planned to ride out the flood.
`'I've got stuff to watch. I'm on the second floor, 12 feet high. It isn't going to get that high," Kerr said.
Richard Fyle, owner of Portside Inc. Bait & Tackle, didn't bother removing inventory hanging from the shop's walls as he prepared to leave. He said he didn't think the water would rise higher than in 1972, when it was about knee deep.
Bill Harrington, 54, said Thursday morning that the water in his basement was already higher than from last month's Hurricane Irene.
He and his son John were moving two kayaks from their yard onto their porch.
"This is our escape strategy," Bill Harrington joked.
The remnants of Lee have poured more than 9.4 inches of rain on parts of Maryland this week, according to the National Weather Service. Senior forecaster Nikole Listemaa, in the agency's Sterling, Va., office, said about another inch was expected by Thursday night, followed by more scattered showers Friday that could add another one-half to one-third of an inch.
Anne Arundel County police said a Pasadena man died after he was pulled from flood waters near his home Thursday night. They said they were treating the death of 49-year-old Daniel Lambert as a drowning pending autopsy results.
In Virginia's Fairfax County, fire department spokesman Dan Schmidt said two people, including a child, were swept away and drowned in separate cases.
Commuters in the Baltimore-Washington area struggled with flooded roads. Trains on at least one of three MARC commuter lines stopped running because of flooding threats.
Evening rush-hour drivers also contended with the indefinite closure in La Plata of southbound U.S. 301, a main route into northern Virginia.
And just after rush hour, high water forced authorities to close the Capital Beltway in both directions where it crosses a stream called Cameron Run and at another location in Fairfax County.
Authorities also closed the westbound Woodrow Wilson Bridge on Interstate 495 on the Maryland
In Washington, the Department of Public Works offered sandbags at RFK Stadium.
The Prince George's County administration building and county courthouse were closed due to flooding in Upper Marlboro. The county and the city of Annapolis opened emergency operations centers to respond to the rising water.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and Baltimore's public works department reported that excessive rainfall was causing overflows of diluted raw sewage into waterways. In Baltimore, the overflow was estimated at 10,000 gallons or more.
The WSSC said it had no estimate of the overflows in Laurel and Fort Washington. It said the tap water it provides to customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties was safe for drinking.
Utility companies in the region reported about 5,000 customers without electricity Thursday evening.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)