Town still healing from storm

Recovery: Residents and officials of Charlestown in Cecil County continue to assess losses from Isabel.

October 12, 2003|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The cloud of gnats, chain of festering trash bins and acrid scent of oil eclipse Charlestown's breathtaking view of the North East River at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

At Conestoga Street, the waterfront road just behind the town center, Tropical Storm Isabel marked its westward path. The storm swept up a 275-gallon oil tank and tore fuel tanks from their mountings, staining the field behind the town playground and saturating the adjacent houses' floors.

Restoration for the field alone will cost more than $30,000, town commissioners estimate - a staggering fee for a working-class enclave that brings in about $140,000 in revenue each year.

The hurricane that streaked across the East Coast last month - later downgraded to a tropical storm - damaged or destroyed more than 200 houses in Cecil County and so far has cost local governments nearly $1.4 million, said Mike Browne, deputy chief of the county's department of emergency services. He warned that costs, which so far do not include recovery, would grow as assessments continue.

But Cecil County, carved by five rivers and the bay, fared comparatively well during the storm despite its damage, state emergency officials said. Parts of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, Baltimore City and the Eastern Shore sustained far more damage, said Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

More than 3,300 buildings were damaged or destroyed in Baltimore County, so far considered to have sustained the brunt of the storm, he said. About 250 homes and businesses were affected in neighboring Harford, and officials estimated that recovery there would cost $20 million.

Four feet of water did not stop the Chesapeake Inn in Chesapeake City from holding a wedding reception two days after the storm hit. Owner Gianmarco Martuscelli, who estimated damages at about $150,000, said his staff worked 26 hours to clean the restaurant, finishing one hour before the reception began.

The bride, Delaware resident Holly Jankiewicz, 31, used a generator to power her hair dryer that morning and sweltered in a church without air conditioning. She said her friends had taken pictures of her standing knee-deep in water when she surveyed the inn's damage the day after the storm, and later posted one near her wedding cake with a message:

"Not even `the other woman' - Isabel - could stop this wedding."

According to the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., Cecil received about 2 inches of rain and wind gusts of up to 50 mph. However, the storm surge rose as high as 7 feet in some areas along the bay, said meteorologist Joe Miketta.

Most of the region's damage is attributed to the surge. In Cecil, the damage was concentrated along coastal areas, from Fredricktown to Port Deposit. Parts of Charlestown, North East and Perryville were among the hardest hit, Browne said.

An American Red Cross spokeswoman said 12 people sought refuge in the county's two shelters that night, and about two dozen received assistance.

Browne said there were no forced evacuations in Cecil County, and few rescues had to be made.

Charlestown rescued about a dozen people who tried to ride out the storm on their boats. One windsurfer also was rescued, fire officials said.

In contrast, Hurricane Floyd, with wind gusts of up to 60 mph, dumped 8 inches of rain in 1999 and caused 600 people to flee Cecil County when the North East River overflowed. Residents received about $842,000 in federal relief aid.

"[Isabel] could have been worse," McDonough said.

But try telling that to Ed Barr, 59, of Conestoga Street, who said he'll spend more than $15,000 to replace his living room floor and driveway, which took up fuel and oil like a bath sponge.

Or to Cathy McIntyre, who lives across the street. Thirty years of her family photos, swept by river water, littered the neighborhood like fast-food wrappers.

Two houses down from her, a gray, wood-shingled cottage tilts to the right. A pink condemnation sign contrasts with the toddler's yellow dump truck abandoned in the front yard.

It's that house that Chip Spangler, owner of Market Street Cafe, points to when he talks about why he cooked ham and cabbage, pasta and sandwiches to feed the neighborhood for three days after the storm.

"That man there," he said, "he didn't have nothing."

The Federal Emergency Management Association opened a disaster recovery center for residents seeking state and federal assistance at the Elkton National Armory at 101 Railroad Ave. in Elkton. Residents must register first, McDonough said, by calling 800-621-3362. For the speech- and hearing-impaired, call 800-462-7585.

The center is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The Red Cross also is assisting the storm's victims. Information: 866-438-4636.

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