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As snow melts, flooding is possible

February 20, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Even as residents continued digging out from the weekend's snowstorm Wednesday, local and state officials warned that rising temperatures and rainfall could lead to flooding or building collapses.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency issued a warning for the coming weekend because of a warming trend and a forecast of rain.

Temperatures rose into the 40s Wednesday and were expected to climb into the 50s later this week. Quentin Banks, the state Emergency Management Agency spokesman, said the agency was asking residents to listen to radio and television weather reports to keep updated on the potential for flooding.

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Back-to-back snowstorms in January 1996 followed by rain led to Potomac River flooding in the area.

Washington County and Hagerstown crews were continuing to clear storm drains to lower the risk of flooding.

"We have hundreds of storm drains and we won't be able to open up every single one," said Hagerstown City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman. He said he hoped residents would help clear some, and city engineers were identifying critical flood spots.

Joe Kroboth, Washington County Director of Emergency Services, said the county was marshaling resources in case flooding should occur over the weekend. Officials were locating flood pumps, more salt and road treatments and sandbags, he said.

Kroboth said additional 911 center staff, building inspectors, bridge and highway engineers and fire and rescue personnel would be available over the weekend.

The Emergency Management Agency said building owners should try to clear gutters and drains, and warned owners of flat-roofed structures to try to clear snow from their roofs.

With rising temperatures and rain affecting the snow, "It's wet snow. It's very heavy snow. ... You've got some potential for some real problems," Banks said.

People should hire professionals to clear the snow because the time has passed when it is safe for do-it-yourselfers, Kroboth said.

"Now that basically we've had a day and a half of melting, it's going to be very difficult to get the snow off the roof," and getting up on the roof could cause more damage to already stressed structures, Kroboth said.

In the city, "Things are going slowly. We're doing the best we can. We've worked briefly on storm drains," Eric Deike, manager of Hagerstown's Public Works Department, said Wednesday afternoon.

Deike said one piece of construction equipment failed and "clearing the streets has been difficult because more people are out and about."

Deike said temperatures climbing into the high 30s and low 40s was helpful, "which helps melt things, but not too fast."

There were traffic problems in downtown Hagerstown as snow-clearing efforts forced the closure of portions of Potomac Street, but those efforts would be moved to nighttime-only tonight, Deike said.

He said he hoped to have Potomac Street between Franklin and Baltimore streets and the roads surrounding Washington County Hospital clear by Wednesday night.

Deike said crews were to begin clearing snow from Washington Street between Walnut Street and Cannon Avenue; Jonathan Street and Summit Avenue between Franklin and Antietam streets; and if possible, Franklin Street between Walnut Street and Cannon Avenue.

Washington County Public Schools announced Wednesday that classes would be canceled for a third straight day today, citing poor walking and driving conditions. The central offices will be open.

Washington County Public Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said support and administrative staff would report, but teachers would be off.

"There is a chance of a Friday session, but at this point, we're taking it as a case-by-case basis," Mowen said.

Washington County schools are beginning to face scheduling problems, she said. State-required assessments scheduled for the beginning of March may have to be pushed back, and the May High School Assessments, which are graduation requirements, may be affected, she said.

"The schedule's been blown," Mowen said.

One woman near Hancock was trapped in her home and had missed her dialysis treatment by four days. The main road near her home had been plowed, but her driveway ran for more than a quarter-mile, Kroboth said.

A National Guard humvee and a private tractor plowed the snow and got the woman out, Kroboth said.

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