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40 Years After Agnes

At a special meeting of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, guests remembered Tropical Storm Agnes, its destructive power and its aftermath.

along the Patapsco and Tiber Hudson Rivers was, for some in Ellicott City the highest water they’d witnessed locally. 

But 40 years ago, Tropical Storm Agnes ripped homes from their foundations and trees from their roots. It swept away cars, trains and even bridges.

A mill in Ilchester was so devastated “it looked like it had been bombed,” said Robert Miller. “It was the worst sight I’d ever seen.”

Miller spoke at the Patapsco Valley Heritage Greenway’s annual meeting in which four presenters talked about Tropical Storm Agnes. Miller is an avid videographer and shared video of the storm’s immediate aftermath around Howard County. 

Agnes hit Ellicott City in late June, leading to 19 deaths state-wide and about $110.2 million dollars in damage in 1972 currency.

The resulting flooding was more extreme than a 100-year flood – a flood with a 1 percent statistical chance of occurring on any given year, according to Andrew J. Miller, associate professor at the University of Maryland. It was more like a 135-year flood, he said, and it dropped more than a foot of rain around the area.

Transportation expert John Teichmoeller shared a story about railroad crew members stuck on the roof of a caboose for a day as they watched the waters rise around them.

“’We see trees and branches coming by fast,’” Teichmoeller quoted from their account. “’Then come the snakes.’”

The men were ultimately rescued by helicopter after members of the W. Friendship Volunteer Fire Department were unable to reach them by land – or, as it had become, sea.

Despite the destruction, Enalee Bounds said that the floods left her amazed.  Before Agnes, Ellicott City had been preparing for its bicentennial celebration; the town was founded in 1772. In just a few short weeks, Bounds said, the town was ready for a party.

“It’s amazing what people can do when they all get together and work together.”

A woman in the audience who had also been in Ellicott City during the flood echoed Bounds. The clean-up effort was impressive, she said.

“It was nothing but a miracle that allowed that place to get cleaned up in time for the big (bi)centennial party,” she said.  “Everything looked beautiful. If you didn’t look closely.”

Frank Hazzard April 12, 2012 at 11:39 AM
Agnes was the most significant Maryland storm in a lifetime. It brought torrential rain and high winds. I was eight at the time and have some vivid memories of the destruction. Ellicott City was totally under water. Numerous Howard County bridges were completely swept away. A road that ran from Ellicott City to Elkridge was never rebuilt. Many houses were flooded. It was a major deal in these parts. Anyone of my generation and older will certainly remember Agnes. I commend the Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway for its efforts to remember the tragic events and honor the lives lost.

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