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State receives disaster area designation for Ellicott City

Gov. Larry Hogan and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman after touring flood-damaged Ellicott City on Aug. 10, 2016. (Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan and Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman after touring flood-damaged Ellicott City on Aug. 10, 2016. (Bryan P. Sears)

ELLICOTT CITY — Federal officials have declared Ellicott City a disaster area, a designation that will make residents and businesses eligible for federal aid and potentially pave the way for reimbursement of state and local expenses.

The designation was announced Wednesday by Gov. Larry Hogan just one day after he sought the designation from the Small Business Administration in the wake of a July 31 flood caused by 6.5 inches of rain descending on the area in a few hours and destroying the popular historic main street area. Two people died after being swept away in the flood water.

“Today we’ve got the approval of the feds, so that’s the big news for the day that just came in,” Hogan said. “We acted very quickly and they acted very quickly and we want to thank out congressional delegation, everybody working together on the state and federal and local level.”

Hogan made the announcement just moments after completing a tour of the downtown area with Republican Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman. It was the first time the governor had toured the area since he visited there the morning after the flood.

The designation opens the door for residents and business owners to apply for low-interest loans to repair flood-related damages.

The area remains off limits to the public while work continues to restore services, repair water and sewer lines. Workers are also attempting to shore up buildings, some of which had their foundations washed away with the sidewalks and roads that also helped support the structures.

Residents and business owners were allowed to return briefly to retrieve some items last week and then for about eight hours on Monday.

“It looks like an entirely different place than it did last Sunday when I was here,” Hogan told reporters following the tour. “We’re making a lot of progress, but it was substantial damage and it’s going to take a while before we get everything back on track, but it couldn’t have gone any better over the past week, I can tell that.”

Hogan said the area, including many of the shops, had been cleared of mud and debris. Buildings are being shored up and roads and sidewalks filled in.

“Obviously still a long way to go, but I was very impressed,” Hogan said.

“The spirit I saw down there was very positive,” said Hogan. “We’ve been devastated as a city, but I think they know how hard everybody is working. They know what a great job everybody has been doing, people smiling and saying thank you and giving thumbs up because they’re seeing some progress.”

Reporters were not allowed to visit the area with state and local officials because of safety concerns.

County officials cautioned that progress is a relative term. A timetable for reopening the area on a more permanent basis to displaced residents and business owners or allowing other businesses to open their doors remains elusive.

“I do not give any timelines because it’s going to be a while and I don’t want anyone to have expectations that we can’t meet,” Kittleman said. “It looks a lot different down there than it did a week ago but still no timeline.”