Sussex County Delaware

The Big Storm
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Ocean Drive, South Bethany

Photo: Debris swept onto Ocean Drive in South Bethany.

Schools Closed all Week,
Tides Damaged Beaches

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  • Photo: South Bethany Senior Cpl. Lev Ellian surveys the damage beach erosion did to a property on Ocean Drive.

    Ocean Drive, South Bethany

    Photos: Many secondary roads continued to have ice patches late Tuesday. Downtown Milford had piles of snow to contend with. A surfer makes his way through the snow to the waves at Indian River Inlet. Damage done to Ocean Drive and beachfront properties in South Bethany.

    The State of Emergency in Delaware was lifted at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2003, and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner announced that state offices will reopen at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 19.

    Lincoln RoadSchools, however, continue to be closed, as all Sussex County school districts except Delmar were closed on Thursday, Feb. 20, and four school districts -- Cape Henlopen, Indian River, Sussex Tech and Woodbridge -- announced they would remain closed on Friday, Feb. 21.

    As the storm abated and the cleanup process continued, Minner said Delawareans should be prepared for their commutes on Wednesday.

    "All travelers should take extra time and extra caution Wednesday," Gov. Minner said. "Many roads that are open have been narrowed by plowed snow -- some even reduced to a single lane. People are going to need to be cautious and considerate Wednesday."

    While she ordered state offices to open at 10 a.m., she said the state's "liberal leave" policy would be in effect for those who are still snowed in, meaning they may utilize annual leave time and not attempt to report to work until they are confident their commute is safe.

    Downtown Milford"Our DelDOT crews have been working for five days straight and many parts of the state have been cleared, but there are some areas -- back roads and subdivisions especially -- that have not been touched and people will still be snowed in," Gov. Minner said. "I want state employees to use good judgment when deciding whether or not to come to work and not take chances. But we need to get government open again."

    Gov. Minner said the Delaware Emergency Management Agency began talks Tuesday with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the effects of the snowstorm, especially the many collapsed roofs in homes and commercials buildings.

    Gov. Minner said that, if possible, people whose structures have collapsed due to heavy snow should take pictures of their homes or businesses in order to create a record for FEMA before the snow melts.

    Surfer at IR Inlet"This has been a trying few days for our state and our people, but I am thankful for the spirit of cooperation of our residents and businesses and for the hard work of state employees, especially DelDOT, the National Guard, state police and DNREC," Gov. Minner said.

    With reports of damage coming in from the pair of winter storms that slammed Sussex County all weekend, schools and government offices closed their doors on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2003.

    In addition, Sussex County also closed government offices on Tuesday and cancelled its regular council meeting on Feb. 18.

    As for storm damage, in Dewey Beach, the ocean broke through on four streets and power was out overnight Sunday. Officer Brandon Elliott of the Dewey Beach Police Department said officials there have been told that power was to be back on in Dewey in the early afternoon Monday.

    Elliott said the ocean broke through on Reed, McKinley, Rodney and Dickinson streets and flooded the north-bound lane of Route 1 at high tide at 9:18 a.m., but that residents were not ordered to evacuate. He said the town kept residents abreast of the situation and that some chose to leave and others chose to stay in their homes.

    Ocean Drive, South BethanyThe Delaware Department of Transportation closed Route 1 from Dewey Beach to Road 360 (Fred Hudson Road) north of Bethany Beach but the road was reopened Monday afternoon. The State of Emergency declared Sunday by Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner remained in effect through 6 a.m. Tuesday, however.

    Meanwhile, Sussex County Administrator Robert L. Stickels said at 11:50 a.m. Monday that emergency crews were still dealing with unauthorized motorists on the roadways.

    "If people do not have to drive, they shouldn't," he said. "But people are disregarding that."

    Stickels said the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center received reports of water up to the foundations of some homes in the Oak Orchard area but that no damage had been reported in the Long Neck, Oak Orchard or Riverdale areas, whose residents had been encouraged to evacuate since Sunday night.

    He said the SCEOC was told that a house on North Caroline Street in Broadkill has suffered severe damage from the storm and that there have been numerous reports of 3- to 4-foot snow drifts on the western side of the county along with ponding water in numerous locations.

    Ocean Drive, South Bethany"We've got a mess," he said.

    In Selbyville, Police Chief Scott Collins said half of the roof of a live haul processing building at Mountaire Farms Inc. caved in. The cave-in was believed to be due to the snow. Collins said security officers found the collapse around 9:30 a.m. Because the plant was closed, no injuries were reported.

    Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said his department reported to an accident at the Kent Avenue intersection of Sea Colony West. A Ford Explorer had slid off the road there and into a ditch, submerging the entire front end of the vehicle. No one was injured in the accident.

    In South Bethany, Cpl. Davis of the South Bethany Police Department said Monday morning's high tide had been washing over Ocean Drive and washing down side streets on the ocean side of Route 1 all morning.

    "The oceanfront is torn up," said Cpl. Davis, a 12-year veteran of the force. "The road (Ocean Drive) is impassable. Most of the driveways (to oceanfront properties) are washed out. All vehicles (along Ocean Drive) had to be moved."

    Ocean Drive, South BethanyThe town closed the east side of Route 1 to everyone, including property owners, on Monday due to the damage on Ocean Drive.

    On Tuesday evening, it reopened the east intersecting roadways from Route 1 to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, but continued to close Ocean Drive to vehicles and limit access to the area for safety reasons.

    Senior Cpl. Lev Ellian said utilities have also been resorted to part of the eastern side of South Bethany. Ellian said parking is permitted as posted along eastern side streets, but that violators will be ticketed and persons ignoring barricades or other traffic and pedestrian controls may be arrested.

    Because of the damage along the South Bethany oceanfront, the police department announced early Monday evening that Ocean Drive and intersecting roadways from State Route 1 are closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic for safety reasons. Utilities (water and electric) have been shut off to the area as well.

    "After the State of Emergency has been lifted, all drivers and pedestrians must comply with remaining traffic control devices and barricades," Senior Cpl. Lev Ellian said in a press release.

    Tuesday morning, waves continued to roll underneath oceanfront homes in South Bethany. Ocean Drive was hidden under several feet of sand, topped with a layer of snow and ice. Pieces of snow fence, wooden steps and decking littered the roadway and exposed sewer lines and other utility lines were common up and down the street. Steps hung from houses at odd angles and sand stuck to west-facing windows told a story of seawater splashing back on the houses after it roared underneath them in the height of the storm.

    Ocean Drive, South BethanyCalling the storm "comparable" to the 1992 storm that washed Ocean Drive out, Cpl. Davis said three families living along Ocean Drive had to be evacuated.

    In addition, he said the National Guard was called in and that the Delaware Department of Transportation and the Bethany Beach Fire Department had been assisting police and town staff there.

    On the positive side, Cpl. Davis said that despite the three-day holiday weekend, most property owners on the ocean side of town appeared to have left before the brunt of the storm hit, making the evacuation task less cumbersome than it could have been.

    South Bethany Mayor Don Beck said the bay side of town appears to have escaped any significant damage so far as the town's canals have remained "well within their banks."

    Elsewhere in the county, with roads remaining closed to non-emergency traffic under a State of Emergency, officials began dealing with the effects of flooding from the major winter storm.

    The Delaware Department of Transportation announced at 8:54 a.m. on Monday that Route 1 has been closed in both directions from Dewey Beach to Road 360 (Fred Hudson Road north of Bethany Beach) due to flooding from Indian River Bay.

    In the ocean, seas have reached as high as 25.3 feet in height, according to readings from the Delaware Light Buoy. The buoy has also recorded sustained winds of 33 knots with gusts up to 40.8 knots.

    In Bethany Beach, the police dispatcher said the ocean is under the boardwalk and that Pennsylvania Avenue has flooded. He said debris has washed up under the boardwalk and that officials there are investigating the possibility of damage to the boardwalk near Mango's Restaurant next to the bandstand.

    Rehoboth Beach City Manager Gregory Ferrese said at 9:30 a.m. on Monday that the city is trying to return to normal as quickly as possible, particularly with the large crowds in the resort for the Valentine's Day-President's Day weekend.

    Ferrese said all main roads in the city are open and that crews are hitting side streets this morning.

    "We've been out since yesterday morning at 5 a.m.," said Ferrese. "The streets are clearing up for us. Being a resort and a three-day weekend, we have a lot of people here who want to go home. I'd recommend they go home tomorrow, but you know ..."

    Ferrese said the city has seen some beach erosion and that water there is also under the boardwalk with "huge waves pounding against the boardwalk." He said the northern end of the boardwalk is always the most vulnerable, but that he didn't expect much damage to result from the storm other than "minimal damage to the boardwalk steps going to the beach at Maryland, Baltimore and Virginia avenues."

    The Milford Police Department reported at 9:30 a.m. Monday that "roads are bad and people should stay off the roads". The city received approximately 18 to 20 inches of snow and the majority of the roads in the city are still impassable. While major roads are "passable", they are still hazardous, police officials said.

    The Seaford Police Department described roads there as "terrible" at 9:40 a.m. Monday. Police estimated snowfall in Seaford at about 8 inches, but said roads in the city are still "very slick". Crews continued to work on main roads in the city, police officials said, and had just begun to work on secondary roads, as well. Police said they have had only one accident and that there were no injuries.

    The Laurel Police Department reported that roads were fine except for "a lot of standing water". Laurel police estimated about 5 to 6 inches of snow had fallen there and said the main issue now was cleaning out street drains. No accidents were reported.

    In Ocean View, Chief McLaughlin said the town's snow crews plowed all night Sunday into Monday and that most roads are clear of snow, but he still wouldn't recommend that people try to go out due to some major flooding on town streets. Due to rains and melting snow, he said some streets in town, such as West Avenue near the Ocean View Church of Christ, have as much as 2 feet of water standing on them.

    "We've had a lot of calls from people wanting to know if they can venture out," said the chief. "But there are areas where we can't even get the police cars out. The next two to three days will be hard because the water will freeze up at night and melt again during the day, and with the snow on the ground, there's no place for the water to go."

    Reports on the Sussex County Online forum have said that the ocean has crossed the dunes in Fenwick Island but caused no significant damage to them, although the dune fences have been destroyed in many areas.

    The biggest cause for concern will be high tides on Monday. High tides were expected at 8:37 a.m. on Monday at Indian River Inlet and 8:48 a.m. in Lewes. This evening, high tides will be at 8:53 p.m. at Indian River Inlet and 9:10 p.m. at Lewes.

    Meanwhile, Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner sent a warning to motorists who might be tempted to drive during the State of Emergency she declared the morning of Sunday, Feb. 16, 2003.

    Speaking early Sunday evening, Gov. Minner said several motorists had already been rescued and that motorists going out in non-emergency situations could face arrest or fines of $500.

    DelDOT reports that primary roads are hazardous and no secondary or back roads are considered passable.

    Residents evacuating from flood-prone areas along the coast and bays were encouraged to call 855-7366 to arrange to be picked up.

    Gov. Minner said said DelDOT may need several days to catch up on back roads.

    A State of Emergency was declared throughout Delaware by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner at 9:20 a.m. Sunday as the second of two weekend storms slammed into the state, bringing heavy snows, strong winds, rough seas and high tides.

    Under the State of Emergency, Gov. Minner ordered all Delaware residents and visitors to stay off roads in what she said could be the heaviest snowstorm to hit the state in six years.

    The threat of flooding prompted Sussex County's Emergency Operations Center to begin voluntary evacuation of residents in low-lying areas of the Indian River Bay around Long Neck, Oak Orchard and Riverdale Sunday afternoon.

    An emergency shelter was set up at Sussex Central High School in Georgetown for those residents and other coastal area residents concerned about possible tidal flooding over the next two days.

    Gov. Minner urged residents and visitors with medical or other emergencies to call 911 so a plan could be made to reach them rather than attempting to venture out on their own. In Sussex County, residents who need to reach the county emergency operations center with a non-emergency call are asked to call 856-7366.

    "This is a very serious storm that is expected to last for some time and people should take it seriously and remain in their homes," Gov. Minner said Sunday. "The intense rate of snowfall means we will have a hard time keeping main highways clear and secondary and back roads may not even be touched until Monday."

    The major winter storm predicted by the National Weather Service began to bear down on Sussex County on Sunday morning, Feb. 16, 2003, with strong winds and heavy snow creating almost blizzard-like conditions, dangerous wind chills and rough seas.

    The conditions caused the NWS to issue a Winter Storm Warning, a Storm Warning for mariners, and a Coastal Flood Watch in the county and caused the cancellation of virtually every event, including church services.

    Sussex Countians who work north of the county should also be aware that Kent County is expected to receive up to 18 inches of snow, while holiday travelers along the coast can expect 20 to 30 inches of snow in cities west of the Chesapeake Bay if they attempt to go home Monday.

    Indian River Inlet, Feb. 15, 2003

    Photos: Strong northeast winds were already churning up the Indian River Inlet by evening on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2003.

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