SNOW HILL — While Worcester County may have fared better in its brush with Hurricane Sandy than many other communities, the storm did still result in significant delays in everything from travel to education.
Area schools were closed this week through Wednesday. Four of those schools were used as shelters during Sandy — Stephen Decatur High School (SDHS), Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS), Snow Hill High School (SHHS) and Pocomoke High School (PHS).
All told, 305 people took advantage of the shelters while they were open between Sunday and Tuesday. SDMS was also open to pets as long as they were in carriers and sheltered 45 animals during the storm. PHS and Animal Control sheltered another four pets between them, bringing the total to 49.
According to reports from the Worcester County Board of Education, residents seeking shelter in those four schools represented about one-quarter of everyone that re-located to a shelter during the storm in Maryland. Food service and custodial staff, as well as nurses and administrators, were on hand during the weather event at the shelters and took part in what Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson referred to as a “marathon effort.”
In a letter to teachers, administrators and all other school staff, Wilson thanked the employees who were available during the storm to help those seeking shelter.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with families that are suffering with temporary shelter, flooded homes and disrupted travel,” he wrote. “Our gratitude goes out to all who manned the shelters, provided emergency services, and who supported someone who needed help through the storm.”
According to Board of Education Coordinator of Public Relations and Special Programs Barb Witherow, numbers aren’t in yet this week for the expenses associated with operating four shelters for over 300 people.
“It’s too soon to calculate the cost,” she said.
Besides the disruption caused by serving as shelters, schools did not re-open until Thursday because administrators acknowledged that many county roadways had suffered from the storm.
Worcester County Public Information Officer Kim Moses explained that flooding and fallen limbs on roadways are still being addressed through the end of the week.
“Standing water remains on many other side roads as well,” she said. “Crews remain out in force throughout the county clearing debris from roadways.”
As of Thursday, the Route 12 bridge at Pocomoke, Route 364 at Dividing Creek and Route 346 near Hall Road are all closed. At Route 346, the bridge was washed out. The northbound lanes of US Route 113 were also closed through Wednesday but State Highway officials plan to be able to re-open the section toward the end of the week.
Wilson acknowledged that Sandy’s hit to county roads meant it would be difficult for students to make their way into schools, which necessitated leaving schools closed even after they were no longer being used as shelters.
Even after the majority of roads were re-opened, Wilson pointed out that travel is still difficult in many areas and asked teachers and staff to work together when students returned Thursday.
“We still have many waterways which are flooded and travel will likely be challenging for several more days,” said Wilson. “We ask for everyone’s cooperation and team spirit to make the remainder of the week successful.”
It should be noted that the Board of Education’s 2012-2013 school calendar had three inclement weather days built into it and thus won’t be effected as long as no other weather events during the winter or spring lead to school closings.
While Sandy caused a lot of inconvenience to the county and wreaked havoc in certain areas, especially Ocean City where pictures of the destroyed pier are quickly becoming iconic, officials have pointed out that it could have been a much harder hit. Last weekend the County Commissioners declared a state of emergency and a mandatory evacuation for waterfront property owners including all of West Ocean City, Cape Isle of Wight, Mystic Harbour, Snug Harbor, The Landings, and Assateague Point. Residents in South Point and anyone east of the parkway in Ocean Pines were also included in the mandatory evacuation, as were any other waterfront properties.
According to county Emergency Services, Worcester expected, and received, “historic flooding,” massive rainfall and significant wind damage. In his letter, Wilson touched on just how extraordinary the storm was.
“Over the past several days, our area has endured a devastating storm,” he wrote. “Our lives have been disrupted by high winds, rain, destructive waves and damaging floods … If you have suffered, we hope that you will find relief soon.”
However, despite the flooding and the high winds officials attribute the relatively small cost of the hurricane in terms of property damage and personal injury to extensive planning, the efforts of government and emergency personnel and good luck.