Ocean City and Hurricane Andrew

August 27, 1992

Ocean City and Maryland officials (and Delaware officials, too) can learn a lot from Hurricane Andrew. For example, how well were the evacuation plans executed in the Florida Keys and the Miami area and in the New Orleans area? And did what happened there suggest that plans in Baltimore's favorite beach resorts need to be changed?

Deaths and even property damage from hurricanes are far less today than in the years before weather forecasting was so sophisticated, and federal, state, local and private emergency operations were so widespread. Still, hurricanes are dangerous to coastal communities (and even inland), and the Delmarva peninsula is a particularly difficult environment from which to evacuate people from an approaching hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center rates it the third of the "worst case areas, where estimated evacuation time significantly exceeds accurate warning time." Ocean City and the adjacent Delaware resorts, which often have a resident population of far more than a half million during the early part of the hurricane season, are less perilous than southeast Louisiana, where Andrew also hit, but more perilous than southeast Florida and the Florida Keys, according to the hurricane center.

Last year, the weak Hurricane Bob only brushed the Delmarva coast, and most vacationers stayed put, but still there were massive traffic jams lasting up to eight hours on U.S. 50 and Md. 404, the main routes west. It is entirely possible that a storm of Andrew's destructiveness headed right for Ocean City would require so-called "vertical evacuation," in which people don't leave but take refuge on the upper floors of the masonry high rises along the shoreline. How well did that work in Miami and Miami Beach? Ocean City officials need to find out. Accounts from Florida suggest many such hotels and condos suffered serious damage.

Another question of interest to local area officials posed by Andrew is what such hurricanes do to beach replenishment projects. Miami's is the most successful of the many undertaken in the past 20 years or so. Andrew didn't produce as big a storm surge as predicted, but it was not insignificant. Did the beach hold? Did it help? Was it a good investment? (Who should pay for such expensive projects is another very important question.)

Hurricane experts predict that Andrew opens a 25-year cycle of stronger and more frequent storms than the Atlantic Seaboard and Gulf Coast have experienced in the past 25 years. That means more danger. It also means preparedness must rise to a new challenge.

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