ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — The picturesque main street of Ellicott City – quaint with brightly colored storefronts – was in shambles Monday, two days after a catastrophic storm ripped through town, shattering glass windows, swallowing cars, demolishing structures and devouring their foundations.

Severely damaged were antique shops, restaurants, a toy store and a beloved bar steps from the Patapsco River that local officials say opened their doors to feed rescue crews who responded to a fatal train derailment, the small city’s last disaster.

This disaster though, was different: The magnitude of the storm threatened to wash away the historic boulevard, leaving behind waterlogged remnants of what stood there before.

The storm claimed the lives of two visitors, Jessica Watsula and Joseph Blevins, whose cars were swept into the Patapsco River’s raging waters.

As the rain fell and the waters rose, residents rushed into harm’s way to rescue each other. One group formed a human chain to save a trapped motorist; Jonathan Butkus, 37, raced into the waist-deep water and carried a teenager out of a car on his shoulders.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” he said. “On Sunday, I woke up shaking. We could have all died. It was like Armageddon.”


Butkus lives on Main Street, above a carpet shop, and said at about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday water began rushing through his back door with alarming force. When he went downstairs, he found the streets flooded. Cars, he said, “were like napkins blowing in the wind.”

When he noticed a teenager stuck in a car he immediately jumped into the water and raced toward him.

“It was a fight or flight situation, I didn’t even think about it.” As he ran back across the street debris was rushing toward them, he said. “It was like a warzone.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan toured the damaged area Sunday along with Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who has an office in the town. Hogan declared a state of emergency, which will allow greater aid coordination and assistance.

“No one has ever seen devastation like this in Ellicott City or anywhere in Howard County,” Kittleman said. “There are a lot of businesses that are going to be hurting for a long time. There are a lot of people that lost their apartments and their homes.”

On Monday construction crews crowded Main Street, which slopes sharply toward the river, using cranes to clear debris. A tree had fallen directly into one store, bisecting it. A hair salon’s display window remained intact, with rows of shampoos and conditioners and a sign advertising ammonia-free hair color. But below the floorboards, its foundation had been demolished.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski toured the affected area on Monday and said she and Hogan are working together to apply for federal relief funds.

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