County seeking damage reports

Sussex County emergency managers are asking property owners and residents affected by last week’s coastal storm to report any damage to homes, businesses, cars or other property so officials can gain a clear picture of the extent of destruction wrought by the worst nor’easter to hit the region at least since 1998. The goal: ensuring local property owners can get federal disaster aid, if the overall damage from the storm meets federal guidelines.

“Based on what we’re seeing, we’re hoping we have enough to get a federal disaster declaration,” said county Emergency Operations Center Director Joe Thomas on Nov. 17, referencing a ride along the coast he took with Delaware Emergency Management Agency Director James Turner III on Sunday, Nov. 15.

“We’re working with the Corps for the beaches and DelDOT for the roads,” Thomas said. “And we hope have enough to submit an application.”

There are two potential areas for federal assistance for the storm damage: the public sector, with funding for the repair of beaches, dunes, roadways and other infrastructure, as well as costs associated with dealing with the storm.

“We’re pretty confident we will get public assistance, so the county and local governments can get reimbursed,” said Thomas.

The issue of assistance for individual property owners is a separate one, and the reason the county is asking for all those who suffered damage to their homes, businesses, vehicles or other property between Nov. 11 and 15 to report that damage to the county.

“We have to come up with $600,000 worth of damage to local home owners,” Thomas explained, in order to qualify for potential federal assistance to individual property owners. That’s just $3.23 per capita for the county, but the county must have reports of at least $600,000 total across the area in order for Sussex property owners to qualify for possible federal assistance.

Beginning on Monday, Nov. 16, members of the public who experienced any storm-related damage to their properties are being asked to call the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center at (302) 856-7366. Property owners and residents, officials emphasized, should be prepared to speak in detail about the type of damage suffered, what caused it, the location and whether they have insurance. The damage must be as a result of the storm between Wednesday, Nov. 11, and Sunday, Nov. 15.

“We’re plotting the calls on a map, and, surprisingly, the damage is not just confined to the southeastern part of the county,” noted Thomas. “There are some people all the way over to Delmar right now that have damage from flooding.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the county had already received 64 calls reporting property damage from the storm, he said.

“Now that the storm has passed and people are making their way outside or back to their properties, we need to get an assessment of the amount of damage out there,” Thomas said. “There is definitely flooding damage, particularly along the Inland Bays and the Atlantic coast, and as the days wear on, I’m sure we’re going to see the reports pour in as people begin the hard task of cleaning up.”

Sussex County Councilman George Cole reported that his Bethany Beach businesses had been impacted by the storm, with 3 inches of water in the bicycle shop he owns in downtown Bethany Beach.

The Sussex County EOC is also asking residents and property owners with photographs of flooding or other storm damage to share those pictures with officials. Visit online to upload storm images.

Officials praise efforts during storm

County emergency officials had asked those in low-lying areas to consider moving to higher ground on Thursday afternoon, in advance of the worst of the flooding from the storm.

No mandatory evacuations were issued, but about 70 people in the Oak Orchard and Long Neck areas were evacuated with assistance from county emergency workers, local fire companies and the Delaware National Guard – which was available to assist after a disaster declaration for Kent and Sussex counties was issued by Gov. Jack Markell on Thursday.

Those evacuated were sheltered at Oak Orchard Community Church, which was offered as an evacuation site.

County officials on Tuesday thanked all involved with that effort, as well as other local fire companies, municipalities and county workers who helped during the storm and immediate recovery.

“It seems as if our response was very thorough, and I was very impressed,” said Council President Vance Phillips. “There weren’t any jurisdictional issues. It was a very well-run operation,” he added of the county’s oversight of emergency operations in the area during the storm.