Little damage as Earl briefly batters Ocean City

Swimming prohibited as surf rises; beautiful weekend expected

  • Joseph Mustafa of Fenwick Island, Del., rides a wave runner in the inlet in Ocean City.
Joseph Mustafa of Fenwick Island, Del., rides a wave runner… (Rob Carr, Associated Press )
September 03, 2010|By Julie Scharper and Susan Reimer, The Baltimore Sun

Jason and Mollie Baer and their three sons trudged along the Ocean City boardwalk nibbling damp french fries Friday afternoon.

Moments before, the family from Savage had been standing on the beach near the inlet when a wave, whipped by Hurricane Earl, swept upward and curved over them, knocking down 5-year-old Trevor and 7-year-old Mitchell.

"That's when we figured we better head away from the water," said Jason Baer. Nolan, 3, hunkered down on his father's shoulders, his blue poncho billowing in the wind.

Although Earl stayed more than 150 miles out at sea, it pushed heavy winds and scattered showers through the resort as the holiday weekend began. But the weakened storm left no real damage or substantial flooding, local officials said.

"This is the best-case scenario we could face," Mayor Rick Meehan said at a morning meeting with agency chiefs in the emergency operations center. "Once the storm is out of here, it's going to be a beautiful weekend."

Many hotels had neon "vacancy" signs lit Friday, but Meehan said it did not appear that Earl had deterred many travelers from weekend plans.

The hurricane's impact did not extend to Baltimore and Central Maryland. In Annapolis, Dona Grant arrived at her job at Atwater's Soups in the Market House "thinking it was going to be rubber boots or rubber boats" at City Dock, but choppy waves were the only sign of the storm.

Russell Fontana and his family powered their boat from Rock Hall to Annapolis for a lunch stop on a weekend cruise, and all they noticed were some waves at the Bay Bridge.

"Nothing else," he said from the deck of his motor yacht. "We're going to enjoy the weekend."

Nearby, at the Annapolis Recreation Center, a disappointed Joel Bunker watered the crops in the first-year community gardens. "We are hearing no rain until next Friday," he said.

No injuries were reported in Ocean City, where most people obeyed orders to stay out of the sea, though a few intrepid surfers were issued citations, said city spokeswoman Donna Abbott. One man who plunged naked into the ocean was promptly hauled out and arrested, she said.

Capt. Melbourne "Butch" Arbin, head of the Ocean City Beach Patrol, warned that strong rip currents would continue after Earl passed.

"For us, [Saturday] is going to be the more dangerous day," Arbin said. "It's going to look like the perfect day — blue skies, low humidity — but it will still be treacherous."

Over the weekend, swimmers should stay out of the ocean when lifeguards are not on duty, officials said.

Joseph Theobald, the city's emergency operations director, spent the day fielding calls and inspecting areas where the ocean came up high on the beach.

High waves licked at the fishing pier and the sea flooded the inlet parking lot where many gathered to wade or take photos.

Twins Angelina and Natalie Koskinas, 9, balanced on concrete barriers as water eddied about their feet.

"There's a hurricane and it's name is squirrel," piped up their 3-year-old cousin, Emma Kane.

The girls' grandparents, Linda and Fred Kane, said they made the trek from suburban Philadelphia, undeterred by weather reports. They planned to take the girls to play indoor miniature golf and to drink Shirley Temples at the Blue Ox.

The Ferris wheel was motionless at the Jolly Roger amusement park, which stayed closed throughout the rain, and many shops and restaurants along the boardwalk were shut behind metal storm doors. The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, where exhibits detail the storms that have buffeted the resort over the years, remained closed, too.

The kites that normally sail high above the Kite Loft were folded up, but the store did brisk business throughout the storm, said worker Burcu Ozden. A sign outside proclaimed: "Earl evacuation plan. Don't fear, come in here."

A steady stream of visitors passed through Ripley's Believe It or Not, making it one of the busiest days this week, employee Kelsea Fitzgerald said.

Earl's winds did not disturb the exhibits, save for a door that repeatedly banged open, she said. The giant mechanical shark remained firmly lodged in a corner of the building, slowly flipping its tail.

"He's got a safe spot up there," Fitzgerald said. "Why would he leave? That water is rough out there."

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