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1 drowns as Md. homeless camp floods

Thursday - 1/31/2013, 5:32pm  ET

Associated Press

LAUREL, Md. - A woman apparently drowned as rains flooded a homeless camp and dam gates were opened on swollen Patuxent River reservoirs, prompting the evacuation of hundreds Thursday.

Anne Arundel County police said the unidentified woman died in the homeless camp in Maryland City. The body was found about 11:25 a.m. Thursday in a wooded area at Route 198 and Laurel Racetrack Road where homeless people live in tents. The death apparently occurred before dams were opened on the Patuxent River, Lt. T.J. Smith said.

Police said a 911 call was received about a body floating in the water. Firefighters were already on the scene and retrieved the body from the rising waters. Authorities say a passer-by told the woman to leave the area between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Wednesday because it was not safe.

The victim is believed to be homeless.

Ernest Moran, who lives in the camp, said about 15 people live in tents at the site and he escaped the rising waters with only his dog and a knapsack. Debris from the tent city was seen floating in the floodwaters from the Patuxent.

"It was a swamp" when he woke up Thursday morning, Moran said, adding he expected it to get worse as water from the dams reached the area.

Another resident of the tent city, who identified himself as Mateo, said he left through 4 feet of water about 10 a.m. Thursday, leaving almost all of his possessions behind. He had spent most of the morning walking outside, exposed and shivering in soaking wet clothes, worried if some of his friends had gotten out safely.

Up to 6 inches of rain fell overnight in some areas along the Patuxent River, the National Weather Service said, noting the dam releases will likely cause higher water levels than the area has seen in many years.

Laurel city spokesman Pete Piringer said the voluntary evacuations could affect as many as 2,000 people, with some large apartment complexes along the river in the evacuation zone.

Many people were not evacuating, though.

Dottie Williams, a resident of Selborne House, an apartment complex for seniors, decided to stay in the building after she was told by her property manager it would be OK. She said she understood, though, why others would evacuate as a precaution.

Laurel Mayor Craig Moe said it had been nearly 40 years since he could remember flooding in the city as bad as this. Still, he said there had been no injuries in the city.

At the Howard-Prince George's County line, Laurel resident Courtney Finney watched floodwaters rise to the base of an overpass on southbound U.S. 1, which was closed to traffic.

"As long as I've lived in Laurel _ 11 years _ I've never seen it like this," she said.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission said the heavier-than-expected rainfall prompted it to release water from the Brighton Dam in Brookeville and the Duckett Dam in Laurel. The water utility said rainfall was more than double what was expected in some areas.

Downed trees, meanwhile, halted service on MARC's Brunswick line, and disruptions were expected to continue through the afternoon rush hour.

MARC spokesman Terry Owens said three trains carrying about 800 people were affected Thursday morning by the downed trees near Washington Grove. Passengers were taken back to Gaithersburg, where they were bused to the Shady Grove Metro station.

Near the MARC station in Laurel, authorities towed several cars where floodwaters had risen to the top of some parked cars' tires. Police said that the flood-prone parking area had been closed off to cars early Thursday morning, but commuters moved the barrels that had been blocking access and parked anyway.

The National Weather Service also warned of minor to moderate flooding along the Monocacy and Potomac rivers in Frederick County.

The storms also left thousands without power in Delaware and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Delmarva Power reported about 300 customers without power Thursday evening, down from a peak of about 7,800.


Associated Press writers Alex Dominguez and Kasey Jones contributed to this story from Baltimore.

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