Photo: Stacey Mink Baltimore Sun
A nearly 120-year-old retaining wall that has troubled Charles Village residents for decades collapsed Wednesday amid a month’s worth of rain, dumping street lights, sidewalks and half a dozen cars onto the CSX rail tracks below.
No injuries were reported. City officials evacuated 19 adjacent homes along East 26th Street and urged residents to avoid the area in case of lingering instability.
The landslide halted CSX rail traffic through what is a main artery to the port of Baltimore. The track carries cargo containers handled by rail at the state’s Seagirt Marine Terminal, a substantial economic engine for the region.
“My eyes were just riveted on the road and the railing just falling away,” said Charles Village resident Dana Moore, who was driving north on Charles Street as the embankment collapsed. “It was there and then it wasn’t.”
The rain meanwhile flooded streams, closed roads and prompted rescues across the region.
Signs of trouble appeared on 26th Street early Wednesday afternoon as the rain fell.
Jeff Larry said he was picking up his daughter from school around 2:30 p.m. when he noticed that the street looked more unsettled than usual. When he got home a couple of blocks away, Larry said he called 311 and reported what he saw.
“You could just see that things were going bad — it was a pretty significant shift in the ground,” Larry said. “What I saw was actual cracks in the pavement, cracks where the pavement had dropped six inches and split open. … A lot of the cars were on a much more significant lean than they usually were.”
The 311 operator said she would let her supervisor know, Larry said.
“I really stressed to them this could be something bad, especially with the kids getting out of school,” he added.
Later in the afternoon, Jim Zitzer was looking out his bedroom window on 26th Street when he saw cars parked across the street start to tilt toward the tracks below. By the time he put on his jacket and got out to his front steps, they tumbled some 30 feet below.
“My wife and I haven’t been parking on that side of the street for years because we knew it was going to happen,” said Zitzer, a retired engineer who said he had noticed a crack running parallel to the sidewalk nearly the length of the block.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said city engineers were investigating the cause of the collapse, evaluating the stability of the homes on the street and making arrangements for any residents who were displaced. North Charles, St. Paul and East 26th streets remained closed Wednesday night.
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