BREAKING NEWS: Area begins recovery from Hurricane Irene, with mostly minor damage reported
Coastal Delaware began its recovery from Hurricane Irene on Sunday, dealing with localized flooding and power outages, as well as downed trees and broken limbs. Gov. Jack Markell lifted a travel ban and evacuation orders for at-risk areas as of 11 a.m. on Aug. 28, advising caution for those who did choose to travel.
State transportation officials had initially said they would continue the closure of the Indian River Inlet Bridge until the bridge was cleared by a dive inspection that had already been scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 30, even before Irene targeted the area. However, on Sunday afternoon they reopened the bridge following a successful sonar review of the impact of the hurricane on the inlet.
“These readings provided sufficient assurance to bridge engineers that the bottom of the inlet has not shifted or eroded in a manner that would have created a safety concern,” DelDOT officials said. “The result is the structure remains safe for traffic based on best-available data and has been reopened.”
DelDOT officials said they would proceed with a more detailed inspection using professional divers on Tuesday, as previously planned.
Those who ventured out on the roadways on Sunday were advised to exercise caution, as standing water persisted on secondary and tertiary roads – particularly in areas near the bays and tributaries. By mid-day flooding was still being seen on the west side of Fenwick Island, in bayside communities south of South Bethany, on Fred Hudson Road north of Bethany Beach and on N. Pennsylvania Avenue in Bethany Beach – all traditional sites for tidal and storm-related flooding.
With much of the damage from Irene in the immediate area confined to broken branches and downed trees, other hazards for drivers included the potential for additional branches to fall, which was continuing to occur throughout the day on Sunday, also posing a risk for additional downed power lines.
Sunshine and receding stormwaters bring public out
As clean-up work began on Sunday, weather conditions were improving, with partly sunny skies throughout much of the area for much of the day. Mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s are expected for the next three to five days;
Officials from the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center said traffic making its way back into the county had been light to moderate throughout the day, and residents and property owners were beginning the task of cleaning up. Only a handful of roads remained close because of flooding or downed trees (most notably Prime Hook Road in eastern Sussex County).
Three of four shelters designated for the county had closed by Sunday afternoon. The only shelter that remained open is at Milford High School, where 15 evacuees remained as of midday. The shelter was still being managed by the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula;
In general, flooding from rains and storm-swollen tide cycles were reported as the most widespread lasting effects of the storm. Other damage included minor roofing issues (leaks, missing shingles, etc.), as well as felled trees and downed power lines.
The most significant wind damage in the county appeared to be concentrated to the Nassau Station and Tradewinds Estates developments east of Lewes, where as many as 40 to 50 structures were damaged by a reported tornado. The National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, N.J., was to make the final determination on whether the damage was, in fact, caused by a tornado;
Power crews were working to repair outages scattered across the county. Reports mid-afternoon from utilities showed approximately 16,000 customers without power (approximately 3,000 on Delmarva Power; approximately 13,200 on Delaware Electric Co-op). (Visit www.delmarva.com and www.delaware.coop to view outage maps. For more information on Sussex County storm response, contact the EOC storm line at (302) 856-7366.)
Bethany fares Irene ‘fairly well,’ damage to South Bethany dune
After having been evacuated as of 9 a.m. on Saturday, officials in Bethany Beach on Sunday said the town, its infrastructure and the communities within Bethany Beach fared the event “fairly well.”
“The beach did sustain damage to its dunes, consistent with our typical nor'easter storms. Much of the dune protecting snow fence is gone, and there has been pedestrian ramp damage leading to and from the beach. This is consistent the entire length of the beach.”
Officials noted that a considerable amount of debris remained on the beach and that the beach would remain closed for safety reasons until it is cleaned and the ramp repair can take place. That didn’t inhibit dozens of surfers from taking advantage of the post-Irene surf on Sunday, nor a number of interested visitors from crossing over blockades at the dune ramps or over the dune itself to see the beach in its post-storm condition.
Waves of approximately 12 to 20 feet were reported as the storm passed the area and into Sunday.
Bethany officials emphasized that there was no breaching of the dunes at any location and no obvious boardwalk damage. The dune in the area of the Bethany Arms shops and hotel had obvious signs of having been overtopped at some point during the storm. Ocean water pooled about a foot deep behind the dune in that area.
Many streets east or Route 1, especially North Pennsylvania Avenue, were initially flooded and impassable. Many of the communities within Bethany Beach – most on the west side of Route 1 – were at least briefly without electrical power overnight Saturday into Sunday. Shops in downtown Bethany maintained power during the storm, and some were already open mid-day on Sunday, when the governor lifted the statewide travel ban and evacuation order for the town.
Many streets west of Route 1, those especially on the north side of Route 26 leading to the back-bay area were also flooded and impassable, but the waters had begun to recede by mid-day on Sunday. No significant private or public structure damage was observed, officials said.
Meanwhile, in South Bethany, the constructed dune was breached south of Kewanee Street, allowing seawater to pour behind the dune for much of the length of the oceanfront. As in Bethany Beach, a substantial amount of dune fence was washed away, but unlike its neighbor to the north, the damage in South Bethany was not limited to overwashing of the dune. The beach in the area south of Kewanee was flattened by rushing waters from the storm-tossed sea, though a smaller dune did emerge once again a few blocks farther to the south.
There was also no other apparent structural or infrastructure damage in South Bethany, with the exception of a broken power transmission line pole near Indian Street. Delmarva Power representatives were on-site at that location mid-day Sunday, preparing the way for the pole to be replaced.
While bayside flooding was noted in South Bethany, the water had generally recessed into the canals as of mid-day Sunday. Farther to the south, water from the Little Assawoman Bay was lapping over roadways in Bayview Park and the York Beach area.
Similarly, Fenwick Island was subjected to substantial bay- and canal-side flooding, covering roads and yards. But the storm had not loosed a number of pontoon boats from their moorings on the canals, nor had water levels risen high enough to lift a personal watercraft from its dock or the adjacent grouping of chairs from the ground, though they were surrounded by water.
Water was also ponding on the roadways leading to a number of communities on the Route 54 corridor, but property damage there – and farther inland – was generally limited to broken branches and downed trees.
Some of the more dramatic damage was in Sea Colony, where large trees and major portions of others littered the roadways and parking areas of the community's west side. Several of the trees had just barely missed falling onto homes.
A traffic light at the Sea Colony intersection was one of several being repaired on Sunday, and a portion of the community had been reported as being without power afte the storm.
Some trees had also fallen in the Assawoman Canal, blocking travel on the recently dredged waterway. Expectations were that the trees would be removed in the coming days, restoring the canal for travel.
Areas around the Indian River Bay were also reported to have suffered considerable flooding, with some roadways remaining impassable mid-day Sunday. However, it appeared there had been little, if any, structural damage from the storm, aside from the reported tornado near Lewes.
Power companies mobilize response to Hurricane Irene
“Delmarva Power had crews working to repair electrical infrastructure and restore outages as soon as the first bands of Hurricane Irene reached our service area,” said Delmarva Power Region President Gary Stockbridge mid-day Sunday. “Our restoration fleets will continue to work around the clock until power is restored in our service area. This restoration process is being conducted strategically and with full force.”
Damage to the electrical infrastructure has been extensive up and down the East Coast, Stockbridge noted. In Delmarva Power’s service area, Hurricane Irene delivered heavy rains and severe winds. As of Sunday morning, more than 210,000 Delmarva Power customers had experienced outages. Delmarva Power had since restored service to more than 91,000 of those customers, with approximately 120,000 remaining customers without power as of mid-day Sunday.
During the restoration period, DP representatives noted, a customer’s service may go on and off intermittently. In the wake of the storm, weakened trees can continue to fall and equipment can fail for an extended period of time. A preliminary damage assessment process must be completed before a “global” estimated restoration time can be generated. Delmarva Power’s “global” estimated restoration time indicates when the last Delmarva Power customer is expected to have power restored.
“As the skies clear, the company urges the public to stay alert, as conditions will remain hazardous. It is critical to stay clear of downed wires,” they added.
Other important safety recommendations they made include:
• If you use life-support equipment that requires electricity to operate and you have lost power, Delmarva Power urges you to seek alternative accommodation at a location with emergency power capabilities or a hospital, as restoration will be a multi-day event.
• If you are using a portable generator, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use only when necessary. Don’t overload it and be sure to turn it off at night, while you sleep and when you are away from home.
• Operate a portable generator in a well-ventilated area. Never run it inside, even in your garage, to avoid the potential hazard of carbon monoxide. Do not connect the generator directly into your home’s main fuse box or circuit panel.
• Protect food and refrigerated medicine with regular ice in an insulated cooler. Foods will stay frozen for 36 to 48 hours in a fully loaded freezer if the door remains closed, and a half-full freezer will generally keep food frozen for up to 24 hours.
A full list of safety tips can be found on the Delmarva Power Web site, at www.delmarva.com. Customers who experience an outage or see a downed or damaged power lines are asked to report it at www.delmarva.com or call Delmarva Power at 1-800-898-8045.
Delmarva Power also recommends, when reporting an outage, customers request a call back. Call-backs allow Delmarva Power to notify customers who have relocated when work in their area is complete. Call backs also help Delmarva Power verify whether outages still exist at specific customers’ homes, they said.
As of Sunday evening, 1,328 Delaware Electric Co-op (DEC) members remained without power. All major circuits are restored and restoration of smaller circuits will continue throughout the overnight hours, DEC representatives said. Delaware Electric Cooperative had crews dispatched to all areas of Sussex and Kent counties. To report and outage, down wires, trees on lines or any other issue to DEC, call the emergency service line at (302) 349-9009 in Sussex County.
Life begins to return to normal for most
Officials announced on Sunday that State of Delaware offices in all counties would open as regularly scheduled on Monday, Aug. 29.
Beebe Medical Center on Sunday announced the planned reopening of most satellite services, asking that the public call (302) 645-3300 for detailed information regarding the openings and closings
Beebe Medical Center’s inpatient and most outpatient services on its main campus were to be open as of Monday, Aug. 29. The Emergency Department, operating rooms, and Labor and Delivery at the hospital on Savannah Road in Lewes remained fully staffed and ready for traumas and other emergency situations throughout the storm.
The Millville Emergency Center was to reopen at 7 a.m. Monday morning, with the following outpatient services to open on Monday: Beebe Outpatient Surgery Center and Same Day Surgery; Beebe Imaging; Beebe Lab Express; Wound Care and Diabetes Management in Long Neck; Beebe Physician Network offices and services.
Some Beebe Medical Center outpatient facilities were to remain closed until Tuesday morning, including: Tunnell Cancer Center, Cardiac Rehab, Beebe Rehab Services, Gull House and Beebe Home Health.
University of Delaware students, who had been advised to postpone move-in day, were to be able to move in to campus residence halls beginning on Tuesday, Aug. 30, and fall semester classes were to begin at 8 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, UD officials announced.
On Monday, Aug. 29, facilities were to be cleaning up after Hurricane Irene and ensuring that the campus is ready for the return of students.
Officials commend local, state and federal efforts to lessen Irene’s impact
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) was briefed by Delaware Emergency Management Agency officials on Sunday on the effects of Hurricane Irene. He commended the efforts made by state and federal workers who helped Delaware prepare and then clean up after the storm.
Following the briefing, he joined Markell and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn to visit the home of Jack Holloway, which was damaged by a tornado during the storm. That was followed by a tour of the Prime Hook and Greenwood areas of Sussex County.
“Today, I had the chance to be briefed by federal, state and local emergency preparedness personnel, as well as the governor and his staff, to learn more about the effects of Hurricane Irene on the three counties in Delaware,” Carper said. “I am grateful that visitors and residents of the coastal and flood-prone areas complied with the governor’s order to evacuate early. This helped us lower the risk of injuries and fatalities.
“I also had a chance to thank the hundreds of people working with FEMA that came to Delaware from all over the country and as far away as Washington State to help see us through this storm. These local, state and federal emergency responders continue to do an incredible job in this effort.
“We are thankful that the storm was not as destructive as it might have been, but we know that many Delawareans have been impacted, and we will be working as a team with the governor and federal agencies to assess damage and make sure assistance is provided to all in need. Last night, the president signed an emergency disaster declaration for Delaware to provide federal assistance. Right now, FEMA is working with the state to determine the specific needs.
“I was especially pleased to hear that our beach renourishment efforts played a major role in protecting homes and communities along our ocean beaches,” Carper added. “While I understand that there was some breaching caused by high water and wind, the major cities and towns were protected by the dunes and additional sand provided by our federal- and state-funded renourishment projects over the past five to 10 years.”
U.S. Rep. John Carney on Sunday afternoon toured areas in New Castle and Kent counties impacted by the storm. His stops included the Red Cross emergency shelter at William Penn High School, the Delaware Emergency Operations Center in Smyrna and sites in Old New Castle and Delaware City.
“We’re very fortunate that the storm wasn’t as damaging as predicted,” said Carney. “This weekend was an example of the tremendous partnerships that are in place to protect Delawareans in these situations.
“I’d like to thank all the emergency personnel at the federal, state and local levels for planning and executing a response to this threat that kept Delawareans safe and secure. In addition, I thank all of the Delawareans who heeded the warnings and followed directions about this weekend’s storm. This cooperation made it easier for emergency personnel to do their jobs and kept many out of harm’s way.”
Carney also praised those who aided with the evacuation effort.
“I’d also like to thank all of the workers and volunteers at the nine emergency shelters throughout the state. Their efforts provided a safe haven for thousands of Delaware families with nowhere else to turn,” he said.
“Finally, even though Hurricane Irene has moved north of the state, there are still reports of flooding, down trees and power outages,” Carney said Sunday. “I urge all Delawareans to continue to be careful and vigilant as our federal, state and local partners begin the clean-up and recovery process.”
Insurers ready to help those with storm-related damage, water sampling begins
Property Casualty Insurance (PCI) on Sunday offered list of insurance company contact numbers, which is available online at http://www.pciaa.net/web/sitehome.nsf/lcpublic/438/$file/11_Hurricane_Tip_phone_list.pdf
As Hurricane Irene has left her mark along the East Coast, U.S. Geological Service crews began sampling water for pesticides, E. coli, nutrients, and sediment, to document water quality in areas affected by the hurricane. The sampling effort is part of the federal government’s efforts to ensure public health and to support the state, tribal and local response to the storm.
Sampling is taking place along the East Coast, officials said. Crews were to follow the path of the hurricane, where it brought high flows.
“Significant high-water events are important to document, because a storm event like this can flush large quantities of nutrients, pesticides and bacteria into rivers and also alter sediment flow,” said Charles Crawford, coordinator of the sampling effort. “When looking at long-term water-quality trends and year-to-year variation, this hurricane could be a defining event for 2011, and it’s important that USGS captures a complete picture of what happens this year.”
Excessive nutrients in the nation’s rivers, streams and coastal areas are a major issue for water managers, because they cause algal blooms that increase costs to treat drinking water, limit recreational activities and threaten valuable commercial and recreational fisheries, he noted. Increased sediment can cause costly changes in shipping channels, where new sediment can require additional dredging, Crawford added.
“The USGS creates models that relate nutrient, pesticide and sediment concentrations to how much water is flowing,” said Crawford. “In order to have the most accurate model, it’s important to document concentrations during a high flow event such as this one.”
Additionally, high flows from the hurricane have the potential to create higher concentrations of E. Coli in areas that use surface water for drinking.
For full coverage of Hurricane Irene, pick up the Sept. 2 issue of the Coastal Point.