Storm blamed for 3 deaths on Delmarva

Ocean City escapes serious damage

flooding hits Crisfield and Easton

September 17, 1999|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- As it passed over the Eastern Shore yesterday, Hurricane Floyd took one last vicious kick at Maryland, flooding towns and highways from Crisfield to the northern Chesapeake Bay.

A high school principal helping set up a shelter in Princess Anne died of a heart attack.

Two girls were missing and presumed drowned after playing in a creek near Bear, Del. The girls, who were swept into a 300-foot storm drainage pipe, were identified as Erica Fisher, 11, and Sarah Robinson, 12. A third girl was rescued from the raging creek.

Fifty mile-per-hour wind gusts sent waves rolling through downtown Crisfield, where water stood 3 to 4 feet deep in spots. About 100 residents were forced to evacuate and transformers popped, scattering blue and white sparks. The Maryland National Guard dispatched a convoy of 2 1/2-ton trucks from Salisbury to rescue the stranded.

"I remember something like this when I was a kid, but this is the worst in a long, long time," said Kim Taylor, who waded barefoot for two blocks to check her home for flooding. A volunteer firefighter abandoned his compact station wagon after it floated down the street.

Severe flooding also was reported in Saxis, Onancock and other bay towns on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

"This is as bad as I've ever seen it," said Somerset County emergency services chief Steven R. Marshall.

Floyd bore down on Ocean City, where the eye of the storm passed in midafternoon. An evacuation center was set up, and emergency officials braced for hurricane-force winds and storm surges. But Floyd just toyed with the resort city, causing limited flooding. The hurricane did far more damage elsewhere on the Shore.

By dusk, most of Smith Island was underwater, with winds gusting to 70 mph. "There were 2-foot seas down by the main road by the boat basin," said island resident Reuben Becker.

More than 100 Smith Islanders had earlier headed for higher, if not drier, ground, ferried by mail boats, Coast Guard and state Natural Resources Police vessels.

U.S. 50 was closed through Easton, with about 1 1/2 feet of water covering the road. Twenty people sought shelter at Easton High School.

"We could hear the trees snapping," said Sandy Ritch, 31, who fled her trailer home with her husband and their 9-year-old son. "The wind was rocking the house and I was ready to go. I just hope we have a home to go home to."

At the Bohnak Trailer Park in Fruitland, residents of 80 mobile homes were driven out by high water, which reached the roofs of parked cars. Many found their way to a shelter in the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. "The water was up to our knees in the garage by 8 a.m.," said Alicia Zearfoss, one Bohnak resident.

A half-dozen watermen huddled at Gene O's General Store in the bay-side hamlet of Rumbley. They waited nervously to see whether the tide would sweep over the narrow road and three one-lane bridges that link Rumbley to the outside world.

"I'm getting out of here if it gets much higher," said Frank Dize, who had just finished tying up his workboat. Others had moved their vessels to relatively sheltered harbors in Crisfield and Salisbury.

Edward Tarleton Sr., 79, a lifelong resident of Chance, did get out. He spent yesterday at Washington High School in Princess Anne. Floyd's floodwaters, he said, were among the deepest he's seen.

"I've seen the water beating up under the floor of my house twice -- in the storm of 1933 and during Hazel" in 1954, Tarleton said. "But this time, the tide was up in my back yard when I left."

Ronald Harder, 57, the principal of Washington High in Princess Anne, died about 1 a.m. yesterday after he helped set up cots in his school's shelter. The retired Naval officer and Naval Academy graduate, who had led the school for the past three years, was stricken after he walked outside to get some air.

At the Salisbury Zoo, jaguars and bears were locked in their dens to protect them from falling tree limbs.

Wildlife frolicked in the floodwaters. Scott Ferrell, 38, of Richmond, Va., who was staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Easton, spotted a water snake swimming in the foot-deep water outside. "It's not every day you see whitecaps in the parking lot," he said.

In flooded cornfields outside the city, mallards and Canada geese bobbed for grain. Great blue herons and great egrets progged the flooded greens of local golf courses for insects and toads.

About 75,000 late-season vacationers stubbornly hunkered down in Ocean City yesterday, despite warnings. Dancers hopped and two-stepped at the Polkamotion festival at the Ocean City Convention Center.

Some restaurants were so crowded that reservations were required. And while the Boardwalk was mostly closed and the beaches nearly deserted, a crowd in T-shirts and shorts gathered at a parking lot overlooking the Inlet. They watched 5-foot waves explode into the rocky wall, flinging water and sand through the air.

"I wanted to see this," said Mike Carroll, 56, a vacationing police chief from West Ocean Township, Pa. "It's amazing. And at least right now, it's safe enough to watch. It's just brute force."

Sun staff writers Chris Guy, Andrea Siegel, Peter Hermann, Greg Garland, Tom Horton, Timothy B. Wheeler, Michael James and Kate Shatzkin and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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