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Rains force more than 20 families from homes

September 12, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Nearly nine inches of rain fell on parts of Washington County late Wednesday night and Thursday morning, causing mudslides, closing some roads and forcing more than 20 families to evacuate their Abbey Lane townhouses.

"The two streams behind my house each looked like the Potomac River,'' said Austin Rohrer, who lives as 18918 Burnside Bridge Road near Sharpsburg.

Rohrer, 72, said he took no protective measures last night because The Weather Channel said only 1-3 inches of rain was forecast.

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"I had 5.3 inches in my rain gauge at 11 p.m., dumped that and then registered 3.3 inches more at 1 a.m.,'' Rohrer said, making a total of 8.6 inches.

Dennis Frye, organizer of this weekend's Battle of Antietam re-enactment, said all was well on Thursday at the Artz farm off Rench Road, south of Hagerstown.

"We got only 3 inches of rain overnight here but we are probably one of the driest farms in Washington County this morning,'' Frye said.

Crews spread mulch and gravel all night as a precautionary measure, but there were no closed roads and nobody stuck in the battlefield area on Thursday.

The torrential rainfall recorded just a few miles away washed out 200 feet of asphalt on Back Road in Sandy Hook, according to rescue officials.

Jackie Hale, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service River Forecast Division, said a Knoxville weather observer measured just less than 8 inches of rain.

"But then only 4.2 inches were recorded in Smithsburg,'' Hale said.

In Hagerstown, Greg Keefer measured 4.34 inches of rain overnight - most falling before midnight.

Anita Mariotti said she was awakened at 1:45 a.m. by firefighters pounding on her door telling her to get out of her home at 1866 Abbey Lane.

"I have lived on Abbey Lane for 13 years and we never had a problem until they started building the new development behind us,'' Mariotti said.

She said a runoff pond designed to protect Abbey Lane overflowed and the water ran down between the homes.

Without flood insurance, Mariotti said she is looking at a lot of damage in her partially finished basement.

Most of the residents stood in their yards through the night. Ironically, no motel rooms were available anywhere in the county because of the re-enactment, rescuers said.

Coming on the heels of one of the driest summers in Washington County history, the tropical storm-fed rainfall wasn't expected to cause major problems on the Potomac River.

"It's been so dry that much of this rain was absorbed before it got to the river,'' Hale said.

All river stations were recording less than 4 feet of water, hardly registering above normal, she said.

"There is more rain expected in your area but we don't believe there will be widespread flooding or any problems on the Potomac,'' Hale said.

Still, several roads were affected, including Mills Road and Harpers Ferry Road at Back Road.

A mudslide on Cool Hollow Road Thursday morning impeded but didn't block the road completely, a passerby said.

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