Coastal Delaware began its recovery from Hurricane Irene as torrential rains and gale-force winds cleared on Sunday morning, dealing generally with localized flooding and power outages, as well as downed trees and broken limbs – a considerably lesser impact than had been feared from the first hurricane to hit the state in recorded history.
While as many as 50 homes in the Lewes area were damaged by a reported tornado that spun off from the storm, with at least one home destroyed, the bulk of the lasting damage in the Bethany Beach area appeared to be limited to its trees, which had fallen and broken under the power of winds between 60 and 80 mph and heavy flooding that loosened roots from the ground.
What had amounted to as many as 50,000 power outages statewide at their peak had generally been repaired by Monday morning, while floodwaters began to recede shortly after the storm left the area.
Gov. Jack Markell lifted a travel ban and evacuation orders for at-risk areas as of 11 a.m. on Aug. 28. Caution was still recommended to those who did choose to travel, as additional trees and limbs continued to fall and flooding kept some roads impassable, even as evacuees began to return to their homes along the Atlantic coast and bays.
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.
Standing water persisted on secondary and tertiary roads on Sunday – 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.
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 were 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 on Sunday, and residents and property owners were beginning the task of cleaning up. Only a handful of roads remained closed because of flooding or downed trees.
Damage to Prime Hook Road from Hurricane Irene had cut off access to the Prime Hook Beach community, and officials announced Tuesday that they would be opening up a temporary access road to provide access to the community for residents only. They said they would be studying how to provide access to Prime Hook Beach on a long-term basis.
Three of four shelters designated for the county had closed by Sunday afternoon. The only shelter that remained open was at Milford High School, where 15 evacuees remained as of midday.
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 Bethany Arms hotel and shops were among the structures with apparent roof damage, though the damage there appeared minimal.
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 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.
Bethany fares Irene ‘fairly well,’ damage to South Bethany dune
Though the town was subject to a mandatory evacuation order as of 9 a.m. on Saturday, officials in Bethany Beach on Sunday said the town, its infrastructure and the communities within Bethany Beach had fared Irene’s effects “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 was cleaned and ramp repair could 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 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 of Route 1, especially North Pennsylvania Avenue, were initially flooded and impassable. And 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, however, and some were already open mid-day on Sunday, when the governor lifted the 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 already 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 receded 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 which did cause power outages.
Some of the more dramatic damage in the area was in Sea Colony, where large trees and major portions of others littered the roadways and parking areas of the community’s west side as of mid-day Sunday. 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 after 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. State Rep. Gerald Hocker said on Monday that DNREC officials had been notified about the problem.
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.
As of Sunday evening, 1,328 Delaware Electric Co-op (DEC) members remained without power.
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 on Monday and Tuesday.
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. Meanwhile, producers of the television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” who had temporarily closed down work on their first-ever Delaware project – a new home in the Lewes area for the Just Sooup soup-kitchen ministry and the family that operates it – pushed back the big unveiling of the new home and facilities until Wednesday.
They said Irene’s impact on the construction site had generally been limited to turning the ground muddy and uprooting some freshly planted landscaping.
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 the tornado. 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.”
Damage to the recently replenished dune in Fenwick Island was minimal, and replenishment of the dunes in Bethany Beach and South Bethany was already scheduled to take place later this fall, to begin to restore the beaches there to their engineered state.
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.”
Recovery from then-Tropical Storm Irene continued in the Northeast early this week, as the rains the storm will likely be known for caused catastrophic flooding in New England and additional casualties, leaving the death toll from the storm at 40, as of Coastal Point’s deadline.