Press Releases

State cleaning up, drying out after storm

Thousands lost power, but no deaths were reported

Sep 20 2003

Work crews cleared fallen trees, fixed power lines and removed debris Friday as winds diminished, floodwaters receded and Delaware's brush with Hurricane Isabel ended. Many residents lost power, trees and property as winds gusted to 70 mph in the height of the storm. But the hurricane - which took a deadly track in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland on its way to Canada - took no lives here. "We're proud of our coastal defenses from Fenwick all the way north," said John A. Hughes, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "They all held. It was a close thing. We had some leaks, but no failures. We had wash-overs, but no breaks. There's a big difference." By noon Friday, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner had lifted travel restrictions in the state and canceled evacuation orders for low-lying areas. The state Department of Transportation had reopened Indian River Inlet Bridge, confident the storm had not compromised the bridge supports. Minner's state-of-emergency order remained in effect to give greater leeway to the Delaware Emergency Management Agency to impose travel restrictions and other measures and allow Delaware National Guard members to stay on duty. Damage estimates probably will not be available until Monday, said Joe Wessels, planning supervisor for DEMA. But Minner plans to ask federal officials to declare Delaware a disaster area so people can get help rebuilding their homes and businesses. Minner also asked for help with recovery from Monday's floods, which caused an estimated $4.3 million damage in New Castle County. Only a dozen people remained at 6 p.m. in emergency shelters set up by the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula, and more than 60 roads were closed around the state Friday because of flooding, trees or power lines. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., toured the state Friday stopping wherever damage might be found. What he found most was a sense of relief. "We'll be back in business by Monday," Carper said. Blades flooded Widespread flooding problems continued, forcing some to vacate their homes in parts of Sussex County and New Castle County as water levels rose as high as 2 to 4 feet in some areas. In Blades, water from the Nanticoke River began to rise in the town shortly after 7 a.m., Mayor David Ruff said. By noon, the water stretched about a quarter-mile from the south bank, flooding yards of homes, inside of businesses, streets and parking lots. There also was flooding around large oil tanks along the river. Adeline Des Prez said she was taken by surprise when water surrounded her home on Hill Street. Des Prez said that though water had not leaked inside, she was leaving for a nearby shelter. "We weren't expecting anything like this,'' she said. Market Street and the drawbridge were closed, and officials said the road near Hill Street appeared to buckle. The bridge will be closed to boat traffic - meaning it can't be lifted - until inspections are complete on Tuesday, said Mike Williams, a spokesman for DelDOT. In Laurel, flooding on Front Street by Broad Creek forced one evacuation, Mayor John Shwed said. Water levels there rose to about 2 feet. About 40 residents of Augustine Beach and Bay View, both near Port Penn in New Castle County, were evacuated around 4 a.m. Friday but had returned to their homes by late morning. Warner and Joyce Faries surveyed their home near Bay View beach, where waters soaked carpets and flooded their garage; wind ripped a door away and trees in their front yard had caught fire from power lines. "It looked like the Fourth of July with the trees on fire," said Warner Faries, 45. "We were worried the house would burn down." Wind damage The high winds created some treacherous conditions. When a large tree limb crashed through a basement window in Camille Julin's Corner Ketch home about 7 p.m. Thursday, she went out to survey the damage. On the wooded front lawn, she became alarmed when she noticed that another tree, a giant ash about 3 feet in diameter, had horizontal and vertical cracks. She knew the tree would fall and decided to abandon her two-story house in the Lamatan II development, and drive to her son's home in Hockessin. She told a neighbor to call her when the ash fell. About 10 p.m., the ash went through the roof, not far from her bedroom. About 10 a.m. Friday, Julin was back home, meeting with a tree expert and a New Castle County official who deemed the home uninhabitable. Looking at the splintered base of the ash, Julin, 61, kept her sense of humor. "They make baseball bats with ash,'' she said. "I don't know if this was a home run or a foul.'' Michelle and John Hemphill couldn't believe their eyes as they walked around their acre lot on Middletown's Crystal Run Drive. Ten mature trees were down, keeping them from getting out of their driveway and causing quite a scene in a neighborhood where little other damage was visible. "It's eerie," Michelle said. "And all these people are driving by with their camcorders and cameras." The narrow streets winding through heavily wooded areas in Greenville and Hockessin were littered with leaves, pine needles and branches Friday morning. In some spots, such as Hillside Road near Greenspring Road and Barley Mill Road near Rolling Mill Road, fallen trees were leaning over the road onto utility lines, forcing drivers to proceed cautiously underneath. Beaches get off easy While Sussex County beaches were hit hard, officials said damage there could have been much worse. DNREC's Hughes said conditions were "nip and tuck until 1:30 a.m.,'' but said the beaches survived without significant damage. The Indian River Inlet, however, sustained significant erosion. DNREC's Hughes said there no longer is a protective beach around the inlet. "We are entering winter in an extremely vulnerable state,'' Hughes said. Back from the beachfront, emergency officials were reporting continued flooding in areas such as Oak Orchard and Riverdale, where three main roads in that area remained closed. Long Neck communities appeared fine, said Cpl. Jeff Oldham of the state police. Dover back in business Lots of things were inching back to normal Friday. The runways at Dover Air Force Base, shut down shortly after midnight Wednesday, were reopened at 7:30 a.m. Lt. Col. Jon Anderson, the base's chief spokesman, said the first jet cargo plane was expected to arrive late Friday afternoon and 10 cargo carriers - including C-5 Galaxy aircraft returning after evacuation to safer locations - were expected before the end of the day. An equal number of planes was expected to arrive today, Anderson said. "We're pushing it hard," Anderson said. "We need to get back in business for the guys overseas." By 11:30 a.m., all but one of the 10 people who stayed overnight at a shelter at Brandywine Springs Elementary School had gone home. Mill Creek resident Rebecca Fols, 77, said she spent most of the night talking to others in the shelter and sleeping. She said she appreciated the company. "I was worried about being by myself," she said. And high water didn't stop perms and hair cuts from happening again at Maxine's Hair Happenings, in the Laureltown shopping complex. Customers simply walked in through the back door for their weekly appointments, said Maxine Lynch, who owns the salon. "I have very resilient customers. I've got some tough women,'' Lynch said. Staff reporters Murali Balaji, Cris Barrish, Michele Besso, Steve Church, Chip Guy, Charlotte Hale, Patrick Jackson, James Merriweather, Molly Murray, Sean O'Sullivan and Laura Ungar contributed to this article. Reach Beth Miller at 324-2784 or bmiller@delawareonline.com.