Monday, 28 May 2018

Our beloved historic downtown has been hit with its second catastrophic flash flood in less than two years. If you would like to help with recovery and restoration efforts, please consider donating to the Downtown Ellicott City Partnership.

In 2016, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater asked me to contribute a current events poem to her wonderful collection, POEMS ARE TEACHERS.

It was late summer, 2016. The first Ellicott City flood had just happened. Days after the area re-opened to the public, my daughter and I walked down Main Street. The damage was breathtaking. Sidewalk and pieces of the street torn open, so that you could see into the basements of the historic brownstones. Only a handful of businesses were open.

Water can be a terrifying force. Of course, I knew what I would write about for Amy’s assignment.

Here is that poem, “Flood: Ellicott City, Maryland.”

Ellicott City, Maryland

By Laura Shovan

The river left its bed tonight,
woken by heavy rain.
It stomped down Main Street,
passed shops, houses
in a swirling rage. It’s resting now.
We stare at empty spaces.

It whisked cars down the hill.
Their underwater headlights
gave the flood an eerie glow.
A chain of strangers clasped arms,
pulled a woman from her spinning car.
A hillside washed away,
its green grass torn by claws
we did not know the river had.

It’s resting now. We stare at empty spaces
where the river grabbed doors from hinges,
peeled away sidewalks, made off
with random things — bricks and jewels,
and two people for no reason
other than they were in its path.

The river is resting. Now we stare
at empty spaces.

The author’s note included with the poem reads: My town made national headlines when a flash flood tore apart our historic Main Street. Writing a poem helped me reflect on the frightening images of this event. I think this is one reason why people turn to poetry during difficult times. A poem is a safe place to write about emotions like shock and grief. It is also one way to share those feelings with others.

I am sickened that our beloved downtown Ellicott City is experiencing this catastrophe again. Thanks to Amy for giving me the space to write about this horrific flood, which tore apart our historic downtown. The area had made an amazing comeback in less than two years, once again thriving — with many businesses reopening and several new shops and restaurants. Again, if you’d like to make a flood relief donation, Ellicott City Partnership is the recommended non-profit.

My aunt (currently in Kosovo) heard news of the Ellicott City flood. She asked, “Why the extreme flooding?” Here is my answer, if you’re also curious. Keep in mind — I’m not an expert, just a long-time resident and keen observer.

We live about three miles from historic Ellicott City. The quaint old downtown is an important part of our lives here.

Ellicott City is a pre-revolutionary mill town. The area that was flooded was the first terminus of the B&O railroad out of Baltimore. The original station house still stands and is now a museum. The area is about five or six long blocks of brownstones and historic buildings, most with shops and restaurants on the ground floor. It runs down a steep hill to the railroad trestle, finally making a “T” with the Patapsco River — the low point of the hill.

The Patapsco has a history of floods, some catastrophic. But that’s not what happened in 2016 or yesterday. We have lived here for nearly 20 years. This flash flooding tearing down Main Street is new.

Main Street runs alongside several small tributaries to the Patapsco — especially its parallel river, the Tiber — which flow down the hill and into the larger river. These smaller rivers may have risen, but they did not break their banks until August 2016. There is no question in my mind that aggressive building in the hills above Main Street are at the root of the flooding. Trees were cleared and soil was stripped for dozens of new construction projects. The water has nowhere to go.

They say the damage is worse than 2016. It’s hard to imagine that. The water broke storefront windows and literally rushed through buildings front to back last time, destroying everything inside. It tore up sidewalks and pieces of the street. The rebuilding project has been massive and successful, but I can’t understand why they undertook rebuilding without doing serious flood abatement. This was bound to happen again.

We’re absolutely heart-broken. Our local government must take care of the environment in order to protect one of our best and most beloved resources.

2 responses to “Ellicott City Floods — Again”

  1. Have been keeping you and your town in my mind and heart, Laura – such a powerful poem, and I’m sorry it is again timely.

  2. Linda Baie says:

    It gives me shivers that you already have written about this, and now it happened worse than before. Your poem is strong, those “empty spaces” show much. Thinking of all of them this day, and you, too, Laura.

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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