SNOW HILL — Early estimates for exactly how much damage Hurricane Sandy wreaked in Worcester County are positive, though officials acknowledge that certain spots in the area were hit harder than others.
“Most of the county infrastructure was left with little or no significant damage,” Emergency Services Director Teresa Owens told the County Commissioners Wednesday.
According to Public Information Officer Kim Moses, the first estimate of storm damage to public property and assets as well as the cost of public assistance was $1,186,640. That number is many million dollars lower than what other parts of the East Coast faced in the wake of the hurricane.
“We fared very well with Hurricane Sandy,” said Owens.
But while the county at large may have dodged a bullet, many individual property owners weren’t so lucky, especially those near water.
“We did find major damage,” Owens said.
There were at least 10 properties in Pocomoke that were hard hit, she continued. In one case, storm water flooded a heating tank causing an overflow of oil and water throughout the property resulting in extensive damage.
“It also seeped over to the neighbor’s yard,” Owens added.
Destruction caused by rising water was also prevalent in Ocean City and West Ocean City, according to Owens. However, like many officials immediately after the hurricane struck, Owens asserted that early planning and the efforts of county and municipal employees, as well as emergency service workers, drastically curtailed the problems that Sandy could have caused. Early evacuations were also listed as a smart move that kept many out of danger.
Unfortunately, Owens told the commissioners that more than a few people refused to evacuate despite living in dangerous areas.
This refusal led to a number of complications and calls from people once they realized the situation was worse than expected. In at least one case, a family that had chosen not to evacuate had to be assisted by the National Guard once water in their house rose to more than a foot.
In regards to the entire county, Owens was hopeful that the actual impact of Sandy and the damage done by the storm in nearby areas will make evacuation a more palatable choice next time.
“I hope it gave these people a new perspective,” she said.
Eddie Werkheiser, a liaison with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), agreed with Owens’ assessment and shared a belief that Sandy will have a more noticeable impact on how residents treat storms than last year’s ultimately soft hit from Hurricane Irene.
“Irene was kind of a tap on the shoulder,” said Werkheiser. “This was an elbow to the ribs for us on Delmarva.”
While failure to evacuate trouble zones caused headaches, reckless actions by some residents during Sandy kept emergency workers busy.
“During the storm, the 911 center received numerous calls,” said Owens.
One of the more memorable calls that Owens mentioned was a pair of boaters who decided to launch from Assateague at the height of the storm. Unsurprisingly, they quickly lost control of their vessel and friends on the shore phoned for help.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who was familiar with the incident, interjected that the nearby friends had initially told responders that they planned on trying to rescue the vessel with their own personal boat.
“What was more remarkable to me was that their friends were going to go after them,” said Shockley. “I don’t know what that says about survival of the fittest.”
This particular story had a happy ending, with Owens confirming that the original boaters washed ashore and were taken out of danger. In the future, though, she hopes that similar incidents and unnecessary risks won’t be repeated.
While the county may have early estimates on damage, Owens told the commissioners her office is still working to discover the extent of Sandy’s impact on private property. Reviews done so far have only been “preliminary” and she asks anyone with damage to report it to their insurance companies or contact her office for more information.
One move that could benefit Worcester is an application being made this week by the state to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting that a state of emergency be declared for Maryland under Sandy. How long it will take FEMA to consider that application is unknown, though a decision in the next few weeks could be expected. If a state of emergency is declared, it could affect what funds homeowners can expect.
According to Werkheiser, who met with the Berlin Mayor and Council in September after summer storms caused a large amount of flooding, if a federal state of emergency is declared and more than 25 homes in the area suffer at least 40 percent property damage, FEMA could offer “mitigation funds.” Even if the 25-home limit isn’t reached or a state of emergency isn’t declared, Werkheiser explained that any property that received more than 40 percent property damage might qualify for low-interest loans to re-build.