Hero in a broken City

A new perspective on the events and aftermath of the Ellicott City Floods.

By: Zachary Nelsonnelson_broken-city-2
Ellicott City Hero Mike Caughy

 “It’s not like those people did anything wrong by going down there… to have a good time.” This is a quote from Lucas Ahern, recounting the tragic events that occurred a few months ago in Ellicott City. Lucas is a UB student with a special connection to the historic city. Living within walking distance of Main Street, he enjoyed visiting the old city in his youth. “Every summer… me and my friend Joey would go to the Roger Carter Center pool probably every other day… and bike down to Old Ellicott City and get milkshakes and chocolate.” He looks back on these memories fondly recounting, “Every shop owner that I’ve met in Old Ellicott City was incredibly sweet and kind and really didn’t deserve what had happened to them.”

The people I interviewed had such affectionate memories about the old city. Most people attribute to one of two things. First, they talk about the unique feel and look to a city surrounded by tranquil nature. Then, they talk about the people. The strong community and fun filled nightlife brings many happy memories back to residents and those in the surrounding areas. Perhaps this is part of the reason people are so distressed about the devastation. Lucas said, “It made me remember my childhood of how I’d go down there – and I can’t do that anymore because that’s destroyed.”

The tragedy has a particular place in the hearts of those at the University of Baltimore. Financial Aid Director at UB, Joseph Blevins, passed away during the traumatic night. The Baltimore Sun reports that Joseph was, “Widely known around the institution for his calm demeanor, good sense of humor and helpful attitude.” The flood may have swept through just a small part of our country, but the effects have been felt by people everywhere.

Last week, I decided to take a drive down to the city. Part of Main Street, including the section with the iconic Ellicott City bridge, has been closed off to the public. An officer said everything in that section is potentially hazardous. This was evidenced by the unfortunate passing of a construction worker a few weeks ago. The river which runs through the city is also potentially hazardous. James Elardo, a local resident, explained that during the incident, five gallons of sewage, containing many harmful toxins, was spilled into the river. To make matters worse, the river is laced with metal rods, bricks, and other large building materials from the town. Along the riverside, trees were covered in dead leaves and sediment. Due these issues, it may be quite a while before this area is deemed to be safe again for public use.

After seeing some of the city, I happened to meet Mike Caughy, who rents an apartment on Main street. I asked him to tell me his story.

Caughy knew the drill. Soon after the flooding began, he began collected trashcans which had been washed down the street. Caughy had experience Ellicott City floods before. Due to the low elevation, flooding is a frequent occurrence in this area. This flood was different though. He realized that this time the flood would be more than an inconvenience.

 Something was terribly wrong. Water rose from knees to waist in two minutes.

What happened next would change his life. Under a bridge, two women in an extreme state of panic, had flattened themselves up against the wall. Acting out of instinct, Mike waded through the toxic waters in their direction. Taking both of them by the hand, he pulled them through the raging, rising water to safety. In this situation, timing was everything. “If I had not have made it to them in 10 seconds, they would have been swept into the river.”

At the sight of a broken city we mourn. Under the rubble of a broken city is a story. It is a sad truth that the story of self-sacrifice is too often discussed than practiced. Mike was about college age. Our age. I hope that we as UB students will have the courage to act in a similar way when crisis unexpectedly occurs.

Mike is writing a book about his experiences growing up in Ellicott City, and hoping to publish it next year. Look for the book next year under the title, “The New Land of the Phoenix: New Jerusalem, heaven on earth, in Old Ellicott City.”

All photos by Hailey May Chaudron

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