Ocean City dodges a bullet as Hurricane Sandy speeds up off coast, and delivers its most powerful punch to New Jersey and New York, leaving us mostly unscathed

ZACK HOOPES ¦ Staff Writer

 Col. Trey Jordan of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins his inspection of the beach and seawall Tuesday at the Boardwalk’s north end. The city’s sands absorbed much of Hurricane Sandy’s impact. Col. Trey Jordan of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins his inspection of the beach and seawall Tuesday at the Boardwalk’s north end. The city’s sands absorbed much of Hurricane Sandy’s impact.OCEAN CITY

D espite near-apocalyptic predictions from state and federal officials, Ocean City appears to have sustained limited damage from the hybrid storm system surrounding Hurricane Sandy.

Although flooding caused some loss in the low-lying downtown areas of the island, the rain, tides and wind left most homes and businesses soggy, but structurally sound.

“All in all, compared to some of the places to the north of us, we got spared,” said Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins.

Ocean City ordered a mandatory evacuation of the area below 17th Street by 8 p.m. on Sunday, although Ocean City Police Department Chief Bernadette DiPino estimated that roughly 80 percent of downtown’s residential population, about 200 people, chose to stay.

 Flooding in Philadelphia Avenue in downtown Ocean City was enough on Monday to make vehicular travel impossible. PHOTO COURTESY NICK DENNY Flooding in Philadelphia Avenue in downtown Ocean City was enough on Monday to make vehicular travel impossible.PHOTO COURTESY NICK DENNYBy Sunday night, the city had restricted vehicle access below 17th Street, eventually moving the roadblock up to 33rd Street and then to 62nd Street as the storm worsened Monday morning. Traffic restrictions were gradually removed on Tuesday.

Flooding, several feet high in some locations, owed little to Sandy’s rain and more to her amplification of the high tide. This was due to winds that backed water up into the bay and the enormous area of low pressure that she incurred, which was complemented by other low pressure systems, as well as a strong jet stream and full moon, a scenario that caused many meteorologists to dub her a “Frankenstorm.”

Sandy’s effect stood in contrast to the Ocean City area’s last major weather event, 1985’s Hurricane Gloria, which caused damage over a relatively short period of high winds.

Even before Sandy’s worst weather arrived, elevated tides caused water to back out of the city’s storm drains, flooding streets. Although the height of the storm hit on Monday night, it was actually the Monday morning tide that saw the highest floodwaters.

“Yesterday [Monday] morning was definitely the highest,” Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters said. “The course of the storm changed a little bit, and [the Monday night tide] was about a foot less than what we had expected.”

Nevertheless, debris from flooding cluttered the streets, affecting the Boardwalk most severely. Although the city’s sea wall and dune system had prevented the surf from hitting oceanfront buildings, wave breaks were still strong enough to rip out trashcans, railings, and benches, even though the latter were bolted into the boards.

“The wave would hit the bench, rip the lag bolts out, and then push it across the Boardwalk like it was rolling a bowling ball,” Adkins said.

Still, the sea wall succeeded in holding back the majority of the pressure. “We had waves slamming into it, crashing over it, but at least it wasn’t undercutting the buildings,” Adkins said.

Like many resort business owners, Ragamuffin Jewelry and Clothing owner Susan Emond found her store to be a bit damp, but structurally unharmed.

“We got some water in the back, but we can just use a shop vac to clean it out,” Emond said. “Considering what it could’ve been … we took all the precautions, but we were lucky. If this is all we got, we did well.”

Adkins said the city’s priorities lie in clearing detritus from the roads and Boardwalk, as well as moving tons of sand that had been washed inland back into place.

“I’ve got a fleet of loaders and bulldozers coming in on the beach for sand removal along the seawall,” Adkins said. “Our next major effort will be when we go to attack the inlet parking lot. The sand is about four feet deep on the east side.”

On Tuesday, Adkins estimated that cleanup from the municipal side could take as little as a week.

Because the beach and dunes absorbed so much impact, structural damage along the oceanfront was little to none. The most visible casualty was the city’s fishing pier, which lost roughly 100 feet of its eastern tip.

“We are luckily not in the position of New Jersey or New York,” Waters said. “Obviously the pier is a regrettable loss, though, and there will be some debris cleanup and beach replenishment issues.”

On Tuesday, Col. Trey Jordan of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers toured the city’s beaches to assess the condition and performance of the city’s sea wall and dune system, which the Corps had helped the city build in 1991 following Gloria.

“If this project hadn’t been built, you would’ve seen just how serious this storm was,” Jordan said.

The next beach and dune replenishment by the Corps is scheduled for 2014. While the surf gradually erodes the surface of the beach, the work of moving the sand absorbs much of the impact

“People say ‘the beach just washed away, it didn’t work,’” Jordan said. “But that’s what it’s supposed to do. It did its job.”

“The question now is, ‘Did the storm do enough damage to go ahead and do repair now, or do we wait until 2014?’” Jordan continued.

Waters confirmed that 49 people had been evacuated during the storm to shelters elsewhere in Worcester County. The city enlisted the aid of the National Guard in patrolling flooded downtown streets with heavy military trucks that could plow through the high water.

Power outage was also surprisingly limited on the island. Delmarva Power, Ocean City’s sole electricity provider, preemptively cut power to some downtown areas because of flood encroachment, but restored the service early Tuesday morning, according to Delmarva representative Matt Likovich.

Likovich noted two instances of damage to the city’s electrical infrastructure that caused outages. On 24th Street, a broken pole and downed wires had 345 customers in the dark, while on 32nd Street, a switch gear corroded with salt and sand knocked out another 314. Downed poles on 18th and 65th Streets were not affecting customers. A handful of single-building outages were also reported, scattered throughout the island.

Delmarva Power was hoping to resolve most of the issues by Tuesday evening, Likovich said at the time.

 

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