2021 | Rockville

After fatal flooding, some say apartment complexes were aware of problem

A 19-year-old man died after high rainfall in Rockville

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Furniture and other items sit outside a building at Rock Creek Woods Apartments in Rockville, where major flooding occurred, leading to the death of Melkin Daniel Cedillo.

Photos by Steve Bohnel

People familiar with two Rockville apartment complexes that suffered major flooding Wednesday morning – including one where a 19-year-old man died – said the facilities had previously suffered from flooding or water drainage problems.

Those people said employees at both complexes had been notified of potential issues, but did not make sufficient improvements before Wednesday’s rainfall.

At a press briefing Wednesday, Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard said property owners had told officials there were no previous indications of flooding or water problems at Rock Creek Woods.

County officials have not yet named the man who died at Rock Creek Woods apartments, saying they needed to inform family members. A GoFundMe page asking for funds for the funeral identified the 19-year-old as Melkin Daniel Cedillo.

Flooding severely damaged apartments on the ground level of a building at Rock Creek Woods Apartments in Rockville, displacing many residents.

Some members of Cedillo’s family were in his debris-strewn apartment Wednesday, though they declined to speak to a Bethesda Beat reporter. Water marks could be seen high along the walls of a ground-level apartment, ending inches from the ceiling.

The other site of major flooding was Congressional Towers Apartments. 

Montgomery County Fire & Rescue said about 150 people from the two buildings were displaced because of the storm. Chief Scott Goldstein told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that water rose to levels as high as seven feet in the apartments.  

So far, officials believe there “is pretty clear evidence” that a culvert that runs underneath Rock Creek Woods became “overtopped” due to the large volume of rain that accumulated, Stoddard said. He added it is believed that 2.4 inches of rain fell within about 30 minutes, and 3.3 inches fell within an hour. 

“There is definitely indication that this was significantly driven by the amount of water that did come down in a very short period of time over the early morning hours this morning, but we’re doing a more thorough investigation,” Stoddard told reporters.

Denis Grieve, the property manager for Rock Creek Woods apartments, did not immediately respond Wednesday afternoon to two voicemails seeking comment.

Mindy Harrison, the senior vice president for residential property management at Pollinger Co., which manages Congressional Towers, did not immediately respond to two voicemails seeking comment. A representative for the company also did not respond to a voicemail left in the general mailbox on Wednesday morning.

John Walters, a bus driver for Montgomery County Public Schools, was surveying the damage at a building on the northern side of Rock Creek Woods’ complex Wednesday afternoon. That is where Cedillo died, and another person was unaccounted for, according to police. 

Walters’ ex-wife, Rosa, along with his daughter, Melissa, lived on the ground floor. They’re OK, and were at a nearby shelter, he said.

But as he was walking around the rear of the affected building, he recalled a conversation he had with one of the complex’s maintenance workers last summer, about how ground drains outside the building were beginning to overflow.

“The maintenance guy was here last year,” Walters said while looking at those drains. “I said, ‘How come the water’s not going down?’ He goes, ‘Well, the [drains] can’t keep up with it.’ But they did nothing about it.”

Walters understands the difficulties of contending with heavy rainfall, but he still believes more could have been done to keep people safe.

“If it can’t go down, you need to fix it. You need to do something about it  … Or you take these people that live here, and you put them up top [on higher floors], or you say these are uninhabitable [apartments],” Walters said.

County code enforcement workers were also assessing the damage at Rock Creek Woods Wednesday, and had condemned the portion of the building where flooding had occurred.

In various rooms, the carpets were soaked, furniture was toppled over, and dirt and debris lines showed that flooding had reached the top of door frames, or even higher.

Rock Creek Woods Apartments is home to a diverse population of residents, including several who speak Spanish. Its rental rates run from $1,100 for an efficiency to $1,725 for a three bedroom, according to its website. 

At Congressional Towers, many tenants were busy Wednesday afternoon cleaning out their apartments, with furniture and carpets soaked with rainwater. Workers were using shop vacs to soak up water, tearing up carpet in hallways and evaluating the overall damage.

Workers clean up the damage left behind by flooding at Congressional Towers Apartments in Rockville.

Rents there run from $1,670 for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,965 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to its website. It also features a diverse tenant population.

Residents said earlier Wednesday that water quickly rushed into their apartments, and one said he was trapped for a bit before he and his wife evacuated.

Dennis McCall, a six-year-resident of Congressional Towers Apartments, said he had fallen asleep while watching TV, and then woke up at around 3:40 a.m. and went to go take some medicine.

He found his medicine, took it, and got into bed. Not long after that, he heard a loud thud. Water quickly rushed into his apartment on the ground floor, rising up to around his waist.

“I don’t know a lot compared to other people in the world, but for me, water and concrete don’t mix,” McCall said with a laugh.

He added there has been flooding up to his ankles three years ago, and that other residents in the building were concerned. But the landlord did not make any significant improvements, McCall said. 

The landlord could have improved the drainage around the building to prepare, especially given the flooding three years ago, he said.

McCall said he’s moving out of the complex after Wednesday’s flooding.

“Two times is enough,” he said.