WEATHER ALERT (UPDATED): Storm breaches dunes at Bethany, South Bethany, Fenwick and Inlet Bridge [PHOTOS]


The remnants of Hurricane Ida continued to wallop the Delaware coastal area on Friday, Nov. 13, with winds expected to continue to average around 20 to 30 mph with gusts to 45 mph. While that is a reduction from Thursday’s 45 mph peak sustained winds and gusts up to 58 mph, the persistent winds are keeping water from draining away from the coastline and causing significant tidal flooding, along with strong wave action that has resulted in major beach erosion and the breaching of the beachfront dune in at least four locations.

Click here to see our latest photos of the flooding and storm damage.

In Bethany Beach, the beachfront dune – less than two years old and significantly damaged in at least four storms since its original construction – was breached overnight, between Parkwood Street and Wellington Parkway. Maximum wave heights were forecast to range between 15 and 22 feet on Friday.

The dune breach in Bethany has caused flooding between the dune and the town’s older beachfront bulkheading, with about a foot of water now sitting between the two. Bethany Beach Police Capt. Ralph Mitchell said mid-day on Friday there was little the town could do about the breach in the short term, but the bulkhead, or secondary dune, is preventing ocean water from reaching homes and streets in the town.

Along the town’s boardwalk, at least half the depth of the dune had also been eaten away. Similar erosion was being reported elsewhere along the reconstructed shorelines in the area’s other coastal municipalities. Dune crossings have been closed due to the erosion and the dangerous surf and drop-offs that persist just east of the narrowed dunes.

“The beach has suffered severe damage, and all pedestrian and vehicle ramps are closed,” Bethany officials reported on Friday. “We ask that you please respect these closures, as dangerous conditions exist at this time.”

Dune breaches were also reported in South Bethany at Logan Street, where Atlantic Ocean was flowing underneath beachfront homes on Friday for the first time since beach reconstruction, and near Fenwick Island at The Curves community, where the ocean had filled the shared driveways for those homes and looked at possible risk as of late Friday afternoon of sending water toward Route 1 on the south side of the community, at the state-controlled beach.

West of Fenwick Island, a broken water line was reported north of Route 54, west of the Catch 54 restaurant. Crews were on-site Friday afternoon attending to the problem.

South Bethany officials canceled a planned town council meeting on Friday evening, due to the weather. The meeting was rescheduled for Friday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. Fenwick Island also closed its town offices on Friday and reminded residents needing emergency assistance to call 911.

Mitchell said that while the damage to the reconstructed dune was significant, it had proven well worth having it there in the first place.

“We lost a substantial amount of the dune,” he said. “But I tell you, these people who were against the replenishment and the dune being there should be extremely thankful that the dune was there. We would have had a major issue. It may have saved lives.”

At least one member of the state's Congressional delegation agreed. This morning, U.S. Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) met with Rehoboth Beach Mayor Samuel R. Cooper and City Manager Gregory J. Ferrese to discuss the state of emergency in Kent and Sussex counties. Following the meeting, he spent time surveying the damage in Rehoboth Beach with Cooper.

“After meeting with local officials, touring Rehoboth Beach and speaking with state officials, it has become apparent to me that many precautions had been put into place and served us well,” said Castle. “The sand dunes helped to protect much of the boardwalk and beach front properties, but unfortunately there is still some damage throughout the area as a result of the heavy rain and high winds. In the coming months, I will focus on beach replenishment efforts work to direct federal assistance to the area.”

Indian River Inlet Bridge closed to all traffic, expected to remain closed for most of weekend

In the sections of state-controlled beach along Delaware’s Atlantic coast, the natural dune was also seeing significant erosion, with a breach north of the Indian River Inlet Bridge (IRIB) that forced the closure of Route 1 in both directions on Thursday evening. Tidal flooding had also swamped Route 1 south of the bridge, in the Nomad Village area, isolating the bridge on both sides.

The Route 1 closure at IRIB continued into Friday, with no indication of how soon the major connecting route between the Bethany Beach/Fenwick Island area and the Rehoboth Beach/Lewes area might be restored. Those needing to travel between the two areas were forced to head inland, adding additional time to the trip for travelers, commuters and ambulances headed from the south to Beebe Medical Center in Lewes.

DelDOT announced Friday afternoon that Route 1 between Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach would remain closed throughout most of the weekend while DelDOT crews monitored conditions Friday night and started cleanup efforts on Saturday.

Approximately 75 DelDOT workers have been monitoring conditions across Sussex County since the start of the storm Thursday morning, placing barriers, putting up variable message boards and checking roadways for high water, officials said. They were anticipating that Friday afternoon’s high tide would require Route 1 to remain closed, as water levels could rise again.

On Friday night, DelDOT will have a limited crew active to ensure barricades are in place, close roads if conditions warrant and address any other issues as they arise.

Crews will return to the site early Saturday morning to assess the situation and start cleanup efforts. Crews will need to remove more than 3 feet of sand and various debris that has washed up onto Route 1 over the last few days. The material must be moved and the road cleared to a passable condition before it will be reopened to traffic.

Gov. Jack Markell visited the area early Friday morning to assess the damage firsthand. The visit followed his announcement of a state of emergency on Thursday evening.

“It is important to note that Indian River Inlet Bridge construction site, including all cranes and equipment at the site have been secured, and the storm has not impacted the construction of the new bridge,” officials said. In addition, the public workshop that was scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14 at the bridge has been postponed. It will be rescheduled for early 2010.

Once the storm event passes, a fathometer survey will be completed on the existing Indian River Inlet Bridge to determine if any additional scouring has occurred around the existing bridge footers.

Motorist should avoid the Route 1 area near the Indian River Inlet Bridge and take Route 26 as an alternate route, officials advised.

To obtain real-time travel advisories or view live traffic cameras visit www.deldot.gov.

Downtown Bethany flooded east and west of Route 1

Tidal flooding in downtown Bethany Beach, as bay waters continue to be forced into the Loop Canal – combined with rain from the storm – has once again flooded the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue and all of the adjacent side streets. With exceptionally high water levels in that area – reaching 18 inches deep at the post office and 26 inches deep at 1st Street – all side streets on the north side of the town are closed and flooded up to Route 1.

Bethany Beach Town Hall was closed Friday, because of the weather conditions. Those with storm-related issues were told to call the town’s police department. Additionally, there is significant flooding on the west side of Route 1, as well as on Route 26, just east of the Assawoman Canal bridge.

Mitchell said back-bay and canal flooding is also heavily impacting the northwest section of the town. “Anything that’s west of Route 1 and north of Route 26 – all of those streets are basically impassable,” he said mid-day on Friday.

“At present we are also experiencing power outages in some parts of town,” Bethany officials reported Friday morning. “Traveling in or in the vicinity of Bethany Beach is not advisable unless absolutely necessary. As is always the case with this type of storm, residents and developments adjacent to the Loop Canal and Salt Pond should closely monitor the situation and be aware of rising water, particularly during high tides. Those residents should also be aware that back-bay high tides are later (two to three hours) than predicted coastal high tides.”

Fred Hudson Road north of Bethany Beach was also swamped by tidal flooding on Thursday, forcing Delaware Department of Transportation staff to officially close the road. It remained closed on Friday. Route 26 was also seeing flooding from the Assawoman Canal, just east of the canal bridge. Additional areas of tidal flooding that have made roadways impassible were noted in Bethany Beach in the Lake Bethany and Bethany West communities.

The Delaware National Guard training facility just north of Bethany Beach was also flooded, with guardsmen also taking steps Friday to secure the blades of the helicopter on display at the front of the facility.

Ocean View, Millville, Roxana, Millsboro also seeing impacts

Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said mid-day on Friday that town had experienced few problems associated with the storm. He said officers had responded to two incidents on Thursday involving downed trees. One tree fell on a house in Country Estates, causing minor damage, and a large tree limb fell and struck a pickup truck in Savannah’s Landing. The truck, which was unoccupied, suffered significant damage, he said.

Flooding has occurred in West View, on Hudson Avenue and in several other low-lying areas. For the most part, the flooding was anticipated, McLaughlin said. No reports of damage or injury associated with the flooding had been received as of mid-day on Friday.

McLaughlin said officers were also investigating several thefts from automobiles that occurred overnight between Thursday and Friday. The thefts, which were centered around the Bear Trap community, involved unknown person(s) entering unlocked vehicles and removing property and money, he said.

In Millville, on Old Mill Road at Whites Creek near the Food Lion, the roadway was also swamped by the adjacent creek on Thursday afternoon and remained impassable on Friday. Cripple Creek Golf Course was experiencing severe flooding on Friday, while a tent housing furniture for sale next to Route 26 was collapsed by the high winds.

In Roxana, one driver ended up with her car in a water-filled ditch on Thursday after flooding prevented her from seeing the edge of a ditch adjacent to the Pyle Center entrance. In Millsboro, the brick sign base at the B.J.'s and Lowe's shopping center was also damaged.

Several of the areas severely flooded in this storm have been targeted for roadway improvements designed to reduce the impact of tidal flooding, but funding issues have kept state and local government from making such upgrades. Sussex County officials are asking residents to submit photos of such flooding at the county Web site at www.sussexcountyde.gov, again hoping to use the images as evidence of the need for such improvements when state and federal roadway funding is being considered.

School in the Indian River School District was canceled on Friday, after students were sent home an hour early on Thursday afternoon. School district officials cited transportation problems due to flooded roadways and safety concerns for students who live in low-lying areas or required transportation through such areas. IRSD 12-month employees were asked to report as normal.

Flooding expected to continue before improving on Saturday

The National Weather Service has stated that tidal departures will remain very high, with water expected to be trapped in the back bays for at least another four or five tide cycles. While the high tide early Friday morning was expected to be the highest of the storm, moderate tidal flooding was expected again during the high tide cycles late Friday afternoon into Friday evening and early on Saturday morning. As a result, a coastal flood warning was continued into Saturday.

Waves off the coast of Delaware were forecast to remain in excess of 15 feet into early Saturday. Breakers along the coast were expected to approach 7 or 8 feet at times. A high surf advisory continued into Saturday.

For Lewes, on the bay side, Friday afternoon’s high tide is at 5:51 p.m. with a forecast height of 7 to 7.5 feet mllw. The high tide early on Saturday morning occurs at 6:21 a.m. with a forecast height around 7 feet mllw. For Rehoboth Beach, on the oceanfront, Friday afternoon's high tide is at 4:50 p.m. with a forecast height of 7 to 7.5 feet mllw. The high tide early on Saturday morning occurs at 5:22 a.m. with a forecast height around 7 feet mllw.

A coastal flood warning and high surf advisory remain in effect until 10 a.m. on Saturday. Conditions are forecast to improve gradually late in the weekend.

Point Publisher Susan Lyons contributed to this story. Photos of flooding and storm damage are being posted to our photo gallery site at the link included in this story as we receive them. Check back for updated information and photos as part of our local, comprehensive, continuing coverage of this storm throughout the weekend.