Grateful Ocean City apparently spared Storm damage seen minimal Emily hits and runs

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

OCEAN CITY -- Hurricane Emily spared Ocean City early today as it headed out to sea, leaving behind thousands of grateful tourists and doing minimal damage to the beach.

Thousands of tourists who were evacuating the city turned around and headed back to their motels, hotels, trailer parks, campgrounds and condos, glad that they were able to complete their Labor Day vacation at the ocean and not in traffic-clogged highways or back home.

Officer David Catrino of the Ocean City Police Department said that from 18,000 to 20,000 people evacuated the city before all restrictions were lifted at 5:05 a.m. today.

He said the only restriction was that the beach stay closed until city officials, police and emergency workers could see this afternoon if any damage occurred from higher than usual tides as Emily passed by. "The beach looks in pretty good shape," he said.

A 8.6-mile beach replenishment project finished last year cost more than $44 million. Designed to protect the resort's &r developments, it was paid for by the federal, state, county and Ocean City governments.

Officer Catrino said local shelters put up some 2,500 people overnight and no injuries were reported in the evacuation.

"We had a lot of police officers and emergency personnel handling the traffic and just about everything went without incident," he said.

Clay Stamp, Ocean City's emergency management director, said an automated traffic counter indicated about 2,000 cars an hour were leaving the resort yesterday. And 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 end -- near the inlet created by a powerful hurricane 60 years ago -- was packed with tourists playing arcade games, munching on fries or watching 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 Ocean City'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 he 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 from upstate New York and had no intention of cutting short the vacation after spending $1,000 for a week in a hotel. Paul and Christine Snyder from Pennsylvania were actually looking forward to the storm.

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

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.

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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