This story was updated at 3:20 p.m., Jan. 31, 2013.
A homeless woman was found dead in Laurel as police in Anne Arundel County were clearing out a homeless camp impacted by significant flooding in the Laurel area.
According to Anne Arundel police, the woman was found floating near Laurel-Fort Meade Road and Racetrack Road, outside Laurel’s city limits, where there are several homeless tents.
Within the city, a mandatory evacuation in Laurel could still occur as flooding may last for days following the severe Wednesday thunderstorms that hit the region overnight, said Mayor Craig Moe.
Moe said an evacuation center has been set up at Robert J. Dipietro Community Center at 7901 Cypress St. in Laurel though said no one is using the center as of Thursday afternoon.
Moe advised residents near Main Street and other parts of the city along the Patuxent River to evacuate the area saying that as water continues downstream, flood levels could rise.
“We’re preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best,” Moe said.
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission officials were forced to release water from Brighton Dam in Brookeville and the T. Howard Duckett Dam in Laurel, which has caused the extensive flooding in the area, said Lyn Riggins, a WSSC spokeswoman.
The city has posted updates and a map of the recommended evacuation area on its website.
Residents and businesses near the river on Fourth and Avondale streets are strongly urged to evacuate, said Laurel police officer Jesse Cunningham.
Cunningham also said that Route 198/Fort Meade Road west of the intersection with Route 197/Laurel-Bowie Road was closed, and Anne Arundel County Police were engaged in a rescue operation of homeless people at the bridge between Laurel and Anne Arundel County.
Pete Piringer, a city spokesman, said there was a “tent city” of homeless people at the bridge that was cleared out as water levels began rising. He did not have details regarding the number of persons rescued or evacuated.
Piringer said he believes 200 to 300 people have left the area and said 2,000 to 3,000 homes could be affected as city officials predict more flooding.
WSSC spokesman Jim Neustadt said the dam often releases small amounts of water, but it has been over 20 years since something of this magnitude this has occurred.
According to WSSC officials, the overnight rainfall of up to six inches was more than double what was expected, causing the normal level of the Patuxent River to rise significantly.
Neustadt said the release of water from the dams is a precautionary measure to protect the dam structures.
“We do this occasionally after big rain storms,” Neustadt said. “It is now an emergency, but this is a standard procedure for anything like this.”
Piringer said the city is also experiencing intermittent power outages and some fallen branches as a result of the flooding.
Earlier Thursday, the National Weather Service issued flood warnings for Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Howard counties and that warning.
“We’re somewhat used to flooding, but not to this magnitude,” Moe said.
City officials said they are predicting flood water to remain in the area for several days.
Laurel resident Jane Benner, 55, who lives just off Main Street near the Patuxent River, said she’s lived in Laurel her whole life and is not worried about flooding.
“I understand the city’s concerned for safety of the citizens, but visually I don’t see that there’s anything wrong,” she said. “I am concerned though that when water does come through the flood gates that peoples’ vehicles will be safe.”