ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — Searchers scouring a river Tuesday that runs alongside a historic Maryland town ripped apart by flash flooding found the body of a man last seen being swept away by brown waters racing downhill, gutting shops and pushing parked cars into bursting tributaries.
Volunteers and crews with trained dogs had been methodically hunting for 39-year-old Eddison Hermond who disappeared Sunday afternoon after torrential rains that prompted destructive flash flooding in historic Ellicott City for the second time in less than two years.
On Tuesday afternoon, his body was located in the Patapsco River. He was the only person reported missing in Ellicott City — established in 1772 as a mill town surrounded by hills — where many now can’t get the roar of rushing floodwaters out of their heads.
“To have died helping somebody else is incredible. And I can’t even imagine the loss his family is suffering,” said Nicholas Johnson, owner of a store near the spot where Hermond vanished while trying to help a woman who had escaped through a window with her cat.
Hermond, of Severn, Maryland, was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a sergeant in the Maryland Army National Guard. He was described by those who knew him as an affable, generous man.
With waters receded, residents of the flood-prone Maryland town are facing another daunting comeback less than two years since another terrible flood deluged their beloved downtown, smashing inventory and ripping up floors and pavement.
Some people in Ellicott City’s historic downtown say they are determined to rebuild after Sunday’s devastation. Their hope: to pull together as a community once again and live up the nickname “Ellicott City Strong,” which many locals are now repeating as a sort of mantra.
Simon Cortes, owner of La Palapa Grill & Cantina, said it’s “a horrible time,” and his business took on about a foot of water. But he notes the quaint old town has been through it all before, and he’ll do his part to spur another revival.
“I feel like it’s our duty to make sure that we rebuild and open back up,” said Cortes, whose restaurant Hermond was visiting before being swept away by Sunday’s raging floodwaters.
Others are stretched to the breaking point by the floods, which tore up streets and swept away dozens of cars in the quaint downtown of historic 18th and 19th century buildings, which sit in a ravine about 13 miles west of Baltimore.
Another massive cleanup, serious economic losses and a daunting comeback couldn’t come at a worse time. Sunday’s torrential rains came just as the commercial district seemed to come back stronger than ever from a dreadful July 2016 flash flood that killed two people.
Getting flood insurance around old Ellicott City was a pricy proposition before. Now, people don’t even want to think about how much it might cost, on top of the debts they’re still paying from the last time their homes and businesses were destroyed.
Nathan Sowers, owner of the River House Pizza Co., an outdoor eatery in the old mill town’s business district, said that after all the hard work rebuilding from the 2016 flood, he’s feeling a bit overwhelmed at attempting yet another comeback.
“We’ll see. It takes a lot of money and a lot of time, a lot of energy,” he said, speaking near a bridge where several crushed cars were swept into a muddy tributary’s banks.
But Sowers said he saw other hard-hit locals laughing and joking about their troubles first thing Monday morning — a good sign the Maryland town will launch yet another rebirth.
But the bad news just kept coming following the torrential rains: On Tuesday morning, county authorities issued what they called a “precautionary health alert” after a sewage main broke about 2 miles away from Ellicott City’s historic main street.
The sewage overflow, which was first noticed early Monday, has been stopped. But as much as 500,000 gallons of sewage had already spilled and residents were being told to stay away from the affected area.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman has told reporters his immediate priorities were finding Hermond and assessing the condition of damaged buildings that housed shops, restaurants and families. That assessment work continued Tuesday.
“If you look at the devastation and the damage, I would certainly say it’s worse than 2016,” Kittleman said.