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In Maryland, Ellicott City Gets Hit By Devastating Flash Floods, Again


For a while yesterday, Main Street in Ellicott City, Md., looked less like a street than a raging river. Eight inches of rain fell in just six hours. Flash floods tore through the historic downtown. For the second time in two years, the city experienced what has been called a thousand-year flood. Governor Larry Hogan has declared a state of emergency. And now, as floodwaters recede, residents and business owners are assessing the damage.

Mark Hemmis is one of them. He owns Phoenix Emporium, a tavern-style restaurant in downtown Ellicott City. And he's on the line. Hey there, Mark. How you doing today?

MARK HEMMIS: Doing great. Good afternoon to you.

KELLY: We're glad to have you with us. I wonder if you can start by just telling me what yesterday was like. Did you have customers in the restaurant as the rain started to fall?

HEMMIS: We did. We had gotten through our lunch rush. Kind of a lull in the mid- to late afternoon, and that's when the waters really started coming down Main Street.

KELLY: And what did it look like, I mean, when you say the water was coming down Main Street?

HEMMIS: It was - it started out as - it pooled around the sides of the road, you know, a couple inches deep on the curb, and then it covered the road. And once it came over the curb, we brought all the customers up to the second floor. Then it got bad from there. The water ended up being 6, 7, 8 feet deep coming down Main Street.

KELLY: I mentioned that yesterday's flood was the second thousand-year flood that Ellicott City has experienced, the last one in 2016. Was your restaurant flooded then, too?

HEMMIS: Oh, absolutely. We were closed for six months with similar catastrophic damage. We lost everything on the first floor and the basement. So we redid the plumbing and the electrical and all the sewer lines, and then rebuilt, redid the floors and replaced all the refrigerators and tables and chairs. And I got a glimpse inside the first floor yesterday. It looks - I don't know if I can quantify better or worse, but it looks horrible.

KELLY: Oh, I'm so sorry. So you had only managed to rebuild and been open for - what? - like 18 months.

HEMMIS: Almost 18 months. It took us six months to the day to get back open. We opened - reopened on January 30, 2017. Yeah, so we're - you know, we're coming up on a year and a half now.

KELLY: Wow. I wonder - it feels too soon to ask you this, but how are you feeling about the prospect of rebuilding again?

HEMMIS: I'm really not sure where I'm at with that. I don't know anything else. I've been in the restaurant business since I was 14. Yeah, I've owned the Phoenix for almost 17 years. Yeah, I'm not sure what's next. But, I mean, my primary focus right now is to, you know, ensure the stability for my employees, try to get them jobs and try to assist them in paying their bills and, you know, staying afloat.

KELLY: Difficult to hear you use that word, staying afloat. But, yeah, I know what you mean. What are you hearing from them today?

HEMMIS: I haven't heard much yet. Right now I'm just trying to arrange - I mean, obviously it's a holiday today, but, you know, we have a payroll. They expect to get paid on Wednesday. I've got to coordinate that.

KELLY: Do you have any idea whether other restaurants, other businesses, you know, on your block are affected in the same way, going through the same thing?

HEMMIS: Oh, I think Ellicott City is pretty much a complete loss right now, yeah. Some places will get it worse than others with the geography of the town. Just because we're at the bottom doesn't mean we get it the worst. I imagine almost all of town will be closed for a significant period of time.

KELLY: It sounds like what's keeping you going on what must be a really hard day is looking after the people who work with you at the restaurant, trying to take care of them.

HEMMIS: Yeah. Twenty out of 22 employees came back after the first flood. Yeah, it's difficult to, you know, see the people that we've cared about for so long and knowing the time they're going to be going through in the period coming up. So we will - we'll do everything we can to help them in their transition until we figure out what's next.

KELLY: Mark Hemmis, thank you for taking the time. I'm so sorry for what you're going through there today.

HEMMIS: OK. Thank you.

KELLY: That's Mark Hemmis. He owns the restaurant Phoenix Emporium, which, as you just heard, was badly damaged in yesterday's flood in Ellicott City, Md. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.