Storm produces high water, downed trees throughout area

Hundreds of Laurel residents were evacuated Thursday as officials opened two dams following six inches of overnight rainfall that led to one death.

A civil emergency was declared in the city as officials recommended residents leave their homes and businesses in parts of the downtown historic district, near the rising Patuxent River. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission released water from a pair of dams Wednesday night, but had to release more water Thursday thanks to heavier-than-expected rainfall and saturated reservoirs.

"This could affect Laurel, Bowie and Upper Marlboro," said Laurel spokesman Pete Piringer. "But mostly we'll be affected."

One unidentified woman, believed to be homeless, apparently drowned when rainwater flooded a homeless camp in Maryland City near the Laurel Park racetrack, according to Anne Arundel County police. The body was found about 11:30 a.m. Thursday in a wooded area where homeless people had set up a camp.

The woman had been warned earlier that the area was unsafe, police said.

Laurel officials opened the Robert J. DiPietro Community Center as an evacuation shelter. Some residents left their homes late in the day, after returning from work and school, Piringer said.

The water level in the Patuxent inched higher and higher, spilling out more and more into downtown Laurel. By the late afternoon, the river was close to the top of some of the city's bridges.

"This just used to be a little stream," local resident Tony Fassett said as he watched the running water from Route 1. "I used to walk down the street and see the bottom."

Joe Payne, of White Oak, took his son out in the afternoon to visit the river's highest points.

"I thought, 'Man, I gotta see this,' " Payne said. "You don't get to see anything like this too often. That's why we come."

Authorities closed the U.S. 1 bridge about 1 p.m. At the nearby MARC commuter parking lot, police and tow trucks were busy removing cars that had been partially submerged. One official said drivers had moved barricades early Thursday morning to park there.

Those traveling by train instead weren't necessarily better off, as downed trees interrupted service on MARC's Brunswick Line between Washington and Martinsburg, W.Va.

Several points along the Potomac River also flooded Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Flood warnings for the Monocacy River near Frederick, Md., and Seneca Creek near Dawsonville, Md., persisted into the afternoon, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Jared Klein.

Emergency personnel had to make water rescues overnight of people who attempted to drive through flooded areas.

The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department's swift water rescue team assisted and rescued more than 10 people Wednesday night and Thursday morning, officials said.

Loudoun County Fire and Rescue crews rescued six people from five water rescue incidents overnight. One of the people who was rescued was taken to a local hospital as a precaution, while the other people were evaluated at the scene.

Naomi Jagoda contributed to this report.