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As soon as the water started rising up Tiber Alley in downtown Ellicott City, Matthew Milani — owner of The Rumor Mill Fusion Bar & Restaurant — started making adjustments.First, it was small directives to his restaurant staff, without the...

Rumor Mill staff led 47 guests to safety amid Ellicott City flooding

As soon as the water started rising up Tiber Alley in downtown Ellicott City, Matthew Milani — owner of The Rumor Mill Fusion Bar & Restaurant — started making adjustments.First, it was small directives to his restaurant staff, without the...

Rumor Mill staff led 47 guests to safety amid Ellicott City flooding

As soon as the water started rising up Tiber Alley in downtown Ellicott City, Matthew Milani — owner of The Rumor Mill Fusion Bar & Restaurant — started making adjustments.

First, it was small directives to his restaurant staff, without the guests knowing, to prepare for a shift to the second floor. Then, it was an announcement to the entire Saturday night dinner crowd that they would be heading upstairs.

Eventually, in the calmest voice he could muster — and after counting the 47 guests and his eight staff members "a couple hundred times" to make sure all were accounted for — Milani told everyone that they would have to evacuate.

And it wouldn't be easy.

"We took them up a step ladder to the top of our walk-in, to a ladder, to the top of our roof, over a six foot privacy fence to the highest ground on St. Paul street that we could get to," Milani said.

Drivers react to being caught in flooding Saturday night on Frederick Road in Baltimore County near Ellicott City. (Video by Karl Merton Ferron)

Drivers react to being caught in flooding Saturday night on Frederick Road in Baltimore County near Ellicott City. (Video by Karl Merton Ferron)

One woman was pregnant, but she made it. Everyone did.

The waters that had forced the dramatic escape plan would go on to destroy much of the restaurant's first floor.

"You see debris that was actually prep that you did earlier that night, containers that you fill up and use throughout service, all on the ground, silverware and glasses," Milani said. "The high water mark was about 6 1/2 feet inside."

On Sunday morning, the damage came further into focus: storefront after storefront destroyed; massive sink holes up and down the street; small businesses entirely gutted. Two people were killed.

Jamie Knight thought she was driving through any other summer rainstorm as she headed home to old Ellicott City from a night of studying at a sushi bar in Hanover.

But when she turned onto Main Street, she met a surge of floodwaters gushing downhill -- and taking her Volkswagen Beetle with them.

Jamie Knight thought she was driving through any other summer rainstorm as she headed home to old Ellicott City from a night of studying at a sushi bar in Hanover.

But when she turned onto Main Street, she met a surge of floodwaters gushing downhill -- and taking her Volkswagen Beetle with them.

Milani, heading into his 10th year owning the Rumor Mill, attributed their successful evacuation to teamwork.

"They knew what they had to do," he said of his staff, who he heaped with praise.

Donna Gozelanczyk, 62, and her husband Charles Gelso, 74, of Laurel, who were among the 47 guests, agreed.

"The wait staff was incredible," Gozelanczyk said Sunday morning. "They were so calm, helped us over the fence. I wasn't at all scared last night, it was so organized."

She and her husband were back in town to see if they could find their car, which had been swept away in the flash flood.

They thought they saw it — smashed into a shop farther east along the town's Main Street than they had parked it — but weren't quite sure. It was all so surreal.

"I was fine until I got here," Gozelanczyk said, as emotion flooded her face.

For Milani, that emotion first came when he scaled the fence himself — the last one out, after grabbing the insurance binder and cutting off the restaurant's gas and electricity — and his calm demeanor fell away.

"The tears just came," he said. "All your worldly possessions are gone. The way you pay your bills is gone. … You're watching it wash away."

He's glad he kept it together as long as he did. And, he promises to be back.

"We have to make sure it's safe before we can even start demolishing things or start throwing things away," he said. "It's going to be a long road, but it's going to be worth it."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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