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New storm, more misery

Sun Staff

As Marylanders struggled to recover from Isabel's destruction, another storm hit early yesterday, dumping heavy rain on an already soaked region, renewing fears of flooding, forcing the closure of more roads and setting back efforts to restore power.

In Baltimore County, six schools slated to reopen were closed at the last minute when power went out and roads became blocked. Near Washington, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was shut down for a time as crews dealt with the latest storm's impact. In Western Maryland, farmers braced for yet more flooded fields.

And though thousands of electrical workers pushed to restore power, the lights still had not come on for about 171,000 Marylanders last night.

As the latest storm subsided, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge toured communities on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay to view the wreckage from Tropical Storm Isabel. Federal officials set up offices to help residents as they begin to tally damage costs and work through the maze of insurance claims and local, state and federal assistance programs needed to rebuild homes and businesses.

Promising to provide support as quickly as possible for communities devastated by Isabel, Ridge toured with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and members of the state's congressional delegation to see firsthand the impact of the bay's tidal surge.

They made quick inspections of flooded homes in eastern Baltimore County and of restaurants and businesses on the Eastern Shore.

"We have a lot of work to do to help them recover," Ridge said as he surveyed some badly damaged houses in Bowleys Quarters. "They've lost books, photos and personal items that can't be replaced. This is probably the worst thing that has ever happened to them."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened disaster recovery centers in Annapolis, Middle River in Baltimore County and Fells Point in Baltimore, to provide one-stop shopping for storm victims seeking assistance programs. About 50 people made it to the Baltimore County center within the first hour, but only about 10 visited the Annapolis center all day.

Responding to community concerns that many residents were still unaware of the centers, U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger promised to get FEMA representatives to a community meeting tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department. Isabel's victims can register for assistance there, he said.

"What the community needs right now are generators, batteries and places for people with no shelter," Mike Vivirito, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association, told officials.

"That's why the federal government is here to help us," Ehrlich said.

Residents interested in getting federal aid must first call 1-800-621-FEMA.

Water up to the roof

As Ridge's tour passed through Queen Anne's County, Pam Ellison, owner of the Jetty Restaurant, said she is still unsure how to clean up a business that depended on outdoor decks and docking space for boaters.

"We had 8 or 9 feet of water in here," said Ellison, who bought the restaurant about 18 months ago. "Ours was the blue roof you kept seeing in all the shots of flooding at Kent Narrows. That was us, underwater except the roof."

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he worries that the presence of federal and state officials will raise expectations that can't be met by FEMA and the state agency.

"I was very concerned at the press conference because I think many of the people in the audience, and there was quite a crowd there, thought, 'Oh well, I'm going to have all the repair money to rebuild my house,'" Smith said. "The grant programs have caps, and they're not going to do the job."

Ultimately, most residents will have to rely on low-interest federal loans - not grants - to rebuild, he said.

Expect a long wait

State Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. warned Marylanders to expect long waits as insurers sort through thousands of claims: "The sad reality is that Virginia and North Carolina fared much worse than we did."

Redmer also suggested that residents affected by Isabel apply for federal funds even if they have insurance. "Err on the side of asking assistance from everybody you can," he said.

As of 11 p.m., electrical service was still out for 10,000 people in Anne Arundel County, 39,000 in Baltimore County, 24,000 in Baltimore, 6,000 in Carroll County, 10,000 in Harford County and 9,000 in Howard County, BGE officials said.

Even the utility workers were sometimes in the dark.

A group of workers, brought from outside Maryland to help BGE restore power, were finishing their meals at McCafferty's in Mount Washington yesterday when the restaurant's power suddenly went out.

"I think somebody said, 'We've got BGE here,' and people started applauding," said bartender Kim Ludtke. "It was an 'Our heroes!' kind of applause."

But the diners weren't miracle workers. The power remained off for the rest of the lunch hour, being restored in midafternoon.

Today, most Baltimore-area public school students will be back in class. All schools are scheduled to open in Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties.

Ten Baltimore County schools remain closed because of lack of power or impassable roads.

In Baltimore, officials said several schools might remain closed, but a decision would not be made until this morning.

Harford County school spokesman Donald Morrision said four schools that were closed yesterday will reopen today: Harford Technology High School and Norrisville, North Bend and Roye-Williams elementaries. Only Meadowvale Elementary, in Havre de Grace, is likely to remain closed today.

A free day off

But the state board of education provided some relief yesterday for local districts, voting unanimously to waive one of the 180 days required for public schools. State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick recommended the waiver, noting that all Maryland schools had been closed Friday.

In Baltimore County, three schools will also be used starting today to provide showers for residents who still lack electricity or water service. Residents can shower from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Dundalk Middle School, Eastern Technical High School and Lansdowne Middle School.

Soap and towels will not be provided.

Monday night's storm knocked out power for traffic lights and six Arbutus-area schools, including Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, that had been scheduled to reopen yesterday morning, said schools spokesman Douglas J. Neilson.

So the six schools were closed, and buses picking up students had to be turned around to drop them off at their homes, Neilson said. An additional 23 schools were already scheduled to be closed.

Even as area public works crews reopened roads cut off by storm debris, the rain and winds that began Monday night and continued yesterday morning created more obstacles.

"We had flooding and trees down throughout the county. At any given time, we have 20 to 25 road closures," said Elise Armacost, fire department spokeswoman in Baltimore County.

The storm also forced the closure yesterday afternoon of one of the state's busiest stretches of highway, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Prince George's County.

Traffic moving in both directions on the Capital Beltway was forced to detour for almost two hours so workers could remove an overhead sign whose supports had probably been damaged by wind gusts from Isabel, State Highway Administration spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar said.

Lanes reopened about 3:15 p.m., in time for evening rush on the highway, which is used by about 200,000 cars a day.

Several rain-related accidents contributed yesterday morning to the slow southbound Interstate 95 traffic coming into the Baltimore, state police said.

Streets closed in city

In Baltimore, standing water and fallen trees forced the Department of Transportation to close more than a dozen streets for brief periods. Beginning about 7 a.m., pockets across the city were affected, from Hanover Street in the south, to Hillen Road in the northeast, to Frederick Avenue in the west.

Conditions on city roads were back to normal by 10 a.m., said spokeswoman Kathy Chopper.

But not for Reservoir Hill resident Damon Hawkins. About 10:40 a.m., he was driving on Northern Parkway at Park Heights Avenue with his mother, Deborah Hawkins, when an 80-foot-tall tree fell onto the hood of his moving car.

"There was nothing we could do but put on the brakes," he said. "You could see it brushing through the other trees" on its way down.

Around the region, thousands of homeowners and business owners spent the day hauling ruined belongings out of their homes and clearing debris from their yards. By Monday night, residents had deposited more than 2 million pounds of debris at Baltimore County's Eastern Sanitary Landfill alone.

As people dug out, the signs they posted told the story of despair and recovery.

The marquee at the Islander Inn on Millers Island in Baltimore County reads, "FEMA please help." Across the street, a sign at the entrance to the debris-strewn parking lot of the Dock of the Bay warns, "Please keep out." At the Senator Theater in Baltimore, instead of advertising Seabiscuit, the sign reads, "No electricity yet."

A hand-written card in the back window of an SUV in Bowleys Quarters says, "DOWN BUT NOT OUT!! WE'RE FIGHTING BACK!! REBUILD!! WE'LL LICK THIS ONE!!"

And the marquee at the Bengies Drive-In, near the entrance to the Bowleys Quarters peninsula, reads, "Bowley's Quarters. Strong It Stands. We Loan Each Other Our Helping Hands."

Sun staff writers Amanda Angel, Lane Harvey Brown, Julie Bykowicz, Scott Calvert, Lisa Goldberg, Chris Guy, Linda Linley, Jennifer McMenamin, Ivan Penn, Jonathan D. Rockoff, Jason Song and Cy Zaneski contributed to this article.

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