Evacuation of Ocean City urged Gale-force winds, storm surge feared as Emily nears

September 01, 1993|By William Thompson and Frank Langfitt | William Thompson and Frank Langfitt,Staff Writers Staff writer Gregory P. Kane contributed to this article.

OCEAN CITY -- With fears of flooding and high winds, resort officials urged the evacuation of about 125,000 visitors and residents from Ocean City yesterday as the threat of Hurricane Emily disrupted the last full week of the vacation season.

Whether the evacuation will prove necessary remained uncertain. At midnight, the National Hurricane Center projected that Emily's center would pass about 100 miles east of Ocean City in late morning -- close enough to cause tropical-force winds, heavy rain and flooding.

Yesterday evening, Emily battered North Carolina's Outer Banks, with winds ripping away roofs while the storm-driven surf destroyed some beachfront homes and flooded roads. Thousands had fled the region Monday.

Clay Stamp, Ocean City's emergency management director, said the automated traffic counter indicated about 2,000 cars an hour were leaving the resort. And the police set up checkpoints to discourage anyone without a "legitimate purpose" from entering.

Shelters set up inland at Worcester County schools housed nearly 1,000 people by early today, Mr. Stamp said.

But Ocean City Police Capt. Jeffrey C. Kelchner acknowledged, "There are still a lot of people in town."

Many of them were on the Boardwalk about 8 p.m., showing little inclination to abandon their late-summer vacations. The southern jTC end -- near the inlet created by a powerful hurricane 60 years ago -- was packed with tourists playing arcade games, munching on fries or watching ocean waves pounding the rocks of the fishing jetty under a hazy full moon.

The beach was ordered closed at 5 p.m., and Mr. Stamp said police officers watched over the 10-mile strip to ensure compliance until the late-night high tide, when waves strengthened by the hurricane rolled to the line of protective sand dunes.

To the north, police used loudspeakers in Delaware's Bethany Beach last night, urging people to flee inland. The ocean block of neighboring Rehoboth Beach was evacuated -- but some motels were offering half-price hurricane specials.

The decision to invoke the resort's emergency evacuation plan for the first time since Hurricane Gloria in 1985 was prompted by late afternoon forecasts that Emily could pass closer to the Maryland coast. The prediction warned of gale-force winds and a heavy storm surge that, in conjunction with the high tide and a full moon, could cause heavy flooding.

"We're not going to put people in chains and haul them out," said Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell, but added, "We're asking them to leave right away."

A telephone survey showed hotel occupancy rates dropping, but many people went about their business of having fun -- even on the beach two blocks from the town's emergency operations center on 15th Street.

Mike Sunderman and his girlfriend, Erin, headed down the Boardwalk for dinner at Phillips By the Sea Restaurant. Both live on the New Jersey coast and were not intimidated by the hurricane.

"It's no biggie to us," Mr. Sunderman said.

Joe Watson and his family had come in all the way from Upstate New York and had no intention of cutting the vacation short after spending $1,000 for a week in a hotel. Paul and Christine Snyder, who were in from Pennsylvania, were actually looking forward to the storm.

"It will add some excitement to the vacation," said Mrs. Snyder.

Mr. Stamp said he was confident that everyone in Ocean City could be evacuated in an orderly process within 12 hours.

Under the evacuation plan, all traffic was to be directed south, with the upper half of the resort using the Route 90 bridge at 63rd Street to get off the barrier island. Those staying on the lower half would use the old U.S. 50 bridge at Division Street to head inland.

Threats of hurricanes and northeasters -- their winter counterparts -- have forced the evacuation of Ocean City a number of times, according to Mr. Powell. Most recently, in 1985, Hurricane Gloria chased everybody but emergency teams and a few hard-core partygoers out of town.

Resort officials said they had been reluctant to call an early evacuation as Hurricane Emily approached because, without knowing the direction the hurricane would take, they might send thousands of motorists into the face of the storm.

Throughout the day, Ocean City officials used periodic National Weather Service reports to determine what, if anything, they would do to help protect lives and property.

If serious flooding does occur, it is likely to be concentrated in the lower portions of Ocean City.

Officials were unsure what effect Emily would have on the resort's beach. A beach replenishment project finished last year cost more than $44 million.

While high seas lured surfers into the water, they kept most boaters out. At Bahia Marina on the bay side of 22nd Street, mate Joe Marowski checked the lines on "Grand Slam," one of a fleet of fiberglass fishing boats that remained at dockside.

"No sense in taking your boat out and risking it in those seas," he said.

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