With buildings on verge of collapse, some Ellicott City residents unable to return home

- Ellicott City residents who thought they would get their first glimpse of their flood-damaged properties didn't get to go home Wednesday after all. Howard County authorities announced in a news conference that due to the looming collapse of two attached buildings on Main Street, it was not safe to let residents and business owners back into the area.

Joan Shea-Cohen, owner Joan Eve Classics and Collectibles, worked in the building now being called a public safety threat.

"I looked forward every day to getting up and going to my store," Shea-Cohen said. "Because it was pleasure. It was a happy place."

She found out Wednesday afternoon that she will never see her antique shop again.

"I am 73 years old, but I still have lots of energy, and I would love to have something to get up for every morning because that's my personality," she said. "I just don't know where or what that will be."

Some downtown residents and business owners were holding out hope to salvage belongings from flood-ravaged buildings. Many were eager for their insurance adjusters to get into the area to start the claims process.

But those hopes were dashed Wednesday afternoon as authorities halted taking people back to Main Street, saying the unstable buildings would have to be demolished before the area was safe. No timeline was given.

The buildings of concern are attached to each other. One is a two-story building and the other a three-story building. They house the following Main Street addresses: 8101, 8107, 8109, 8113.

As a result, all traffic on Main Street has been forced to stop with only emergency vehicles allowed through.

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said he realizes this is frustrating to those who were anxious to return to their property, but said public safety is paramount.

“It would be unsafe to allow folks to return to their homes until the situation is stabilized,” Kittleman said. “I won’t allow anyone into those buildings until we are positive they are safe.”

Officials said the buildings were initially flagged as being structurally unsafe, and further investigation showed that the building could come down without much more warning.

"There's nobody that wants the community back in their homes and businesses more than we do," said Howard County Fire Chief John Butler, adding that no one wants anyone else to be hurt or killed either.

Butler said he is quite concerned about dust inside the buildings and debris, which, if they fall, could lead to a secondary damming -- and more flooding.

Right now, authorities are working with the Department of Public Works to figure out how to get the buildings down safely with the help of a demolition crew. There's no word on how long it will take to clear the area, but Kittleman indicated it appeared it would be days instead of weeks. 

Meanwhile, nearly 160 vehicles pulled from the flood area still need to be claimed. The cars, which were towed to Centennial High School, can be claimed without a charge until Sunday. After Sunday, the vehicle will be taken to a storage area and will require a fee in order to claim.

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