This is the second part of a three-part series on the floods that devastated Ellicott City, Maryland in 2016. Read part 1 here.
ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — The historic flooding in Ellicott City left several families grieving in its wake. Two people were killed the day torrential rains resulted in a deluge of water on the historic town. Then, months after the disaster, a shop owner died while rebuilding.
Joseph Anthony Blevins, 38, was one of two people killed during the flood, when the car he and his girlfriend were in was swept away by the waters. The loss of the father of three has left a void in the lives of those who loved him, which cannot be filled, they said.
Blevins’ sister, Jennifer Blevins, recalled the day she was told about her brother’s death. She was on a cruise ship when the family got an urgent call a day after the flood.
“It was shocking,” Blevins said.
She said she had a hard time comprehending how a flood in Maryland could have claimed her brother’s life, but that night on the ship, she saw a newscast on TV about the flood.
“It was almost like my brother was trying to show me what happened to him,” Blevins said.
She would later learn about her brother and his girlfriend’s fight to survive when the waters overtook their car. The girlfriend was able to escape by grabbing onto a branch, but Jennifer’s brother didn’t survive.
Another driver, 35-year-old Jessica Watsula, of Lebabon, Pennsylvania, also died in the flooding that night.
Jennifer Blevins said she remembers her brother as a clever, all-around good guy who loved his family, and especially his three children. He worked in the financial aid department at the University of Baltimore, to help support the children, including one daughter who is disabled.
The year since the flood has only gotten worse for the Blevins family, she said, with another brother passing away months after the Ellicott City tragedy.
“It’s just not a fair year,” Jennifer Blevins said while fighting back tears.
As the family continues to heal, Jennifer said it is their faith in God which is getting them through. To mark the anniversary of Joseph’s death, the family will plant a tree in his honor in Ellicott City, even though returning to the town has been tough for Jennifer.
“Every time I drive by there, I get cringes,” Jennifer said.
For 27 years, John and Sun Pacylowski owned and operated their collectibles store Precious Gifts in historic Ellicott City. When the floodwaters came through, the family-run shop was badly damaged.
As the Pacylowski’s worked alongside their neighbors to rebuild, tragedy struck again. Just over a month after the flood, the patriarch of the family John, 67, fell from a ladder while working on the building and died.
Sun Pacylowski, John’s wife of almost 50 years, said she struggled with what she would do next as she mourned in the weeks after his death.
“At first I didn’t know: How do I feel,” she said.
Now almost a year later, wearing her late husband’s glasses on her head, she cut a ribbon to reopen Precious Gifts at its new location just steps away from the original store.
The mother of three said it was the support of her children, grandchildren and the community that gave her the strength to reopen.
The community rallied behind the family. A GoFundMe page raised close to $30,000. Neighbors, friends and complete strangers volunteered to come forward and help Sun relocate and stock the shelves of the store.
“They have been kind of one of the inspirations on the whole rebuilding of Ellicott City,” Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said of the Pacylowski family.
John and Sun Pacylowski’s son, Michael, said he believes his father would have been proud to see how his family and the community pushed forward through the sadness.
“He’d be extremely impressed, not only with this store and his wife and his family, but all of the stores in town,” Michael Pacylowski said.
Outside, during a reopening ceremony earlier this month, tears fells from Sun Pacylowski’s face as she thanked those who helped her family during such a difficult time.
Sun Pacylowski said she felt her husband’s presence at the reopening of the store and that she believe that he is cheering the family on.
“He would say, ‘You did it, you did it,’” she said.