OCEAN CITY — — The beeping and rumbling of backhoes shoveling sand and debris replaced the howl of Hurricane Sandy's winds as cleanup from the storm began Tuesday, though higher than normal tides continued to threaten some areas with further damage.
The storm's impact was evident across the resort town, with some lingering floodwaters along Assawoman Bay and sand, seaweed and pieces of wood littering the ground from which water already receded. Beaches eroded significantly, narrowed to only a few dozen yards in some areas.
On the bay, water levels reached 7 feet higher than normal, with as much as 3 feet of standing water on streets and around buildings, the highest storm surge the town has seen since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, Mayor Rick Meehan said.
Anything above a 5-foot rise in water levels is considered severe.
"This was a worst-case scenario for bay-side flooding," Meehan said. Nearly a foot of standing water remained along parts of the southern end of St. Louis Avenue on Tuesday afternoon.
Residents returning to their homes — or leaving them for the first time since the storm arrived — either counted their blessings or began assessing the damage.
Homeowners Charles and Cathy Ritchie on 7th Street considered themselves fortunate, as the water came about 3 feet shy of their front door, which is 91/2 feet above sea level.
"It's withstood everything," Charles Ritchie said of their home of 25 years. "I've seen the worst of the worst."
But others were left with only losses. Ocean City real estate agent Charlotte Litsinger spent Tuesday morning waist-deep in bay floodwaters that inundated her mobile home at Warren's Park on 51st Street, as well as seven other mobile homes she is marketing there.
"I have one under contract and I haven't told the buyer yet water got in," Litsinger said. "I don't know what we're going to do with that."
Town damage reports include "severe loss" of about 100 feet of the Ocean City Fishing Pier and a light pole blocking the entrance to the town's public works department. Popular spots like Fager's Island and Seacrets were among those inundated by bay waters, but both planned to open Wednesday for Halloween festivities.
Estimates of the value of property losses were not yet available.
At Fager's Island, employees came at 10 a.m. Tuesday to start cleaning up. But a Wednesday opening could be a tall task, said restaurant manager Jimmy Oh. The restaurant and bar's basement flooded, destroying 10 refrigerators and freezers and ruining three-fourths of the inventory of beer and liquor.
Much of the bar's back deck that leads to a gazebo over the bay was destroyed, including the gazebo itself. But employees found an angel statue that once rested on top of the gazebo sitting right-side up in a nearby parking lot.
"This is pretty bad, but I'm surprised it's not a lot worse," Oh said.
Emergency workers in Ocean City responded to 231 calls for help Monday and moved about 50 residents who had ignored a mandatory downtown evacuation but later decided to leave. No injuries or fatalities were reported in the town.
"We were prepared," Meehan said at a press conference Tuesday. "I think that's how we survived what was brought to us."
Elsewhere on the Eastern Shore, flooding continued to pose danger. Hundreds of people remained in Somerset County shelters after low-lying areas of Crisfield were evacuated Monday night, said Victoria Lloyd, the county's emergency planner. They could remain there through Wednesday, with the next few high tides expected to remain as high as 4 feet above normal.
Doug Taylor, Somerset County administrator, said emergency operations were winding down late Tuesday. Officials were doing door-to-door checks on residents. Flooding reached about six feet in some of the county's low-lying areas. More than 320 people had taken shelter at Washington High School and Academy in Princess Anne.
By 4 p.m., about 60 percent of the county was without power, down from about 80-85 percent around 9 a.m.
In Worcester County, a 72-inch pipe carrying a small stream under Old Ocean City Road between MD 610 and Hall Road collapsed under the strain of floodwaters. The State Highway Administration is ordering repair materials, but the work cannot be carried out until adjacent fields drain, officials said. Motorists can use Route 610 to U.S. 50 to Route 90 to Route 346 as an alternate.
Traffic gradually returned to downtown Ocean City on Tuesday morning, with officials first reopening the Route 90 bridge and then gradually clearing access to southern sections of Coastal Highway. The downtown area, evacuated since Sunday afternoon, was reopened about noon.
Along the boardwalk, residents flocked to see the damage as contractors worked to pile up sand covering the walkway and move it back onto the beach. More work will be done later to move sand from up against sea walls downtown and to rebuild dunes farther north, Meehan said.
The beaches remained barren but for a few treasure hunters — storms like Sandy tend to stir up sunken valuables. Elaine Anderson of Ocean Pines was among about half a dozen bundled up in the cold winds wielding metal detectors and perforated scoops for digging through wet sand.
"We do this all year long, but after a storm it's supposed to be even better," Anderson said. "I only found 75 cents today, maybe," along with a corroded coin and a small rhinestone-covered charm.
Town officials expect visitors will be able to return to the town Wednesday.
"The forecast ahead calls for a good weekend, so we're happy about that," Meehan said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Candy Thomson and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this report.