An empty Ocean City endures the storm

Resort town is set to re-open by noon today after evacuation

August 28, 2011|By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun

OCEAN CITY — — Todd Ferrante, an Ocean City business owner and resident, was surveying the storm's damage Sunday morning at about 8 a.m. from the boardwalk, which had some small piles of sand caked to it. The damage he saw, he said, was cosmetic.

"I have to say, Ocean City was lucky again," Ferrante said.

He was looking for signs of wear at the Kite Loft, a store on the boardwalk that is in the first row of businesses along the shore, that his friend owns. The only damage he had to report back to the store's owner was one shingle missing from the roof.

About a foot of rain fell in Ocean City during the storm, police said, and the wind was consistently about 60 miles per hour as the eye of the storm passed within 50 miles of the seaside resort early Sunday.

There were no reported injuries in Ocean City as Hurricane Irene passed through, police said in a statement Sunday morning.

Ocean City property owners, tenants, business owners and employees were allowed back into the town starting at 9 a.m. Sunday, said Mayor Richard W. Meehan. Tourists will be allowed back in starting at noon when the town officially reopens.

The beach will be reopened today but there will be restrictions on going into the surf, which is still experiencing powerful waves, because lifeguards will not be fully staffed.

National Guard units have been released by the town to help in harder hit areas in Southern Maryland and possibly Baltimore, said Police Chief Bernadette DiPino.

As the sun illuminated the beaches and streets in the resort town for the first time since Saturday evening, after a night of torrential rain and winds reaching gusts of 80 miles per hour, little damage was apparent.

Some areas of the town are without power. The wastewater treatment plant is reopening this morning after being shut last night to prevent the sewer system from being damaged by excess rain water.

Only emergency personnel are allowed in town until further notice, police said.

This morning, a firetruck with about five firefighters was stopping every few blocks along the waterfront to turn off alarms that had gone off during the storm.

More than a half dozen alarm systems went off at different times throughout the night at the Stowaway Grand Hotel at the corner of 22nd Street and Baltimore Avenue, said Ray Unger, the hotel's security director.

"We've had Noreasters that have done more damage, said Unger, who lives in Ocean Pines and drove into the resort this morning to check on the empty property. He was planning to do a walk through to look for water damage this morning, but not much else in terms of checking the building for problems.  "We really dodged a bullet."

Wind and water intrusion in the alarm systems can cause alarms to go off, he said. So many alarms we going off, the fire department was forced to ignore shutting them down until this morning, he said.

Cpl. Greg DeGiovanni of the Ocean City Police Department said that water getting into phone lines was also causing false 911 calls to be registered Saturday night.

High winds were expected to continue today. There was little left to blow around in Ocean City, though. Tourists were not walking on the beach or boardwalk, staying in hotels or eating in restaurants. The town even emptied its dumpsters in anticipation of Hurricane Irene.

Only about 7,500 residents live here year-round, but a mandatory evacuation this week moved about 200,000 people from the tourist town, according to a town official.

"Our visitors responded. They left, and they understood, even though on Thursday it was beautiful," said Mayor Richard W. Meehan, who was a rookie member of the City Council during the last evacuation, about 25 years ago for Hurricane Gloria.

The boardwalk was destroyed during that storm, Meehan said. He's confident Irene's damage won't be a repeat of what he saw as a young councilman.

"We've got a lot more protection than in 1985," he said, including sand dunes to protect buildings near the shoreline and a sea wall. "The dunes will be eroded significantly, if not entirely. But then that's what they're supposed to do, protect things to the west. And they can be rebuilt."

Meehan, who declared a state of emergency Thursday, said the town is ready for federal and state funds for cleanup and recovery efforts if necessary. Joe Theobald, director of Ocean City Emergency Management, said all emergency services departments will be fully staffed Sunday.

For the Eastern Shore, a surge of water between four and six feet would mean potential beach erosion, flooding, property damage and floating debris. The storm was expected to come close to Ocean City — the center of Hurricane Irene was expected to pass tonight just off the Ocean City beaches, said Barry Baxter, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.

"People can expect a lot of debris," said Mark Demski, assistant manager of operations at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

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