FENWICK ISLAND — Three weeks after Hurricane Sandy roared through the mid-Atlantic area, Fenwick Island is still picking up the pieces, but the tiny resort community just north of Ocean City is now moving beyond recovery and into a return to normalcy.
While most of the last vestiges of Sandy have long since been cleared from Ocean City and little evidence remains of the storm’s devastation, Fenwick Island was far less fortunate with most of its bayside residences flooded, decks and docks destroyed and streets clogged with debris and downed tree branches. For the last three weeks, the town has provided huge dumpsters for public and private storm damage debris and 25 have been filled to capacity and hauled away with the last expected to be taken away this week.
“We’re just about finished,” said Fenwick Island Town Manager Merritt Burke IV this week. “The last of the dumpsters are expected to be moved out today [Tuesday] and we’re moving out of the recovery mode and into the holiday preparation mode.”
Burke said while the last of the large dumpsters dedicated to storm debris are being moved out this week, the town will continue to assist its residents with clean-up efforts.
“What we’re going to continue to do for our citizens is offer bulk pick-up through the rest of November,” he said. “As residents come down in December to continue to investigate their damage, we’ll likely continue to provide them with the appropriate help in terms of bulk pick-up for debris and storm-related waste.”
Burke said much of the storm’s devastation was concentrated on the low-lying bayside with dozens of waterfront residences flooded and damaged by wind to varying degrees. While the devastation pales in comparison to some of the storm-tossed coastal areas in New Jersey and New York, it was also considerably greater in many respects than even Ocean City immediately to the south.
“The majority of the houses on the bayside flooded to some level,” he said. “We have to consider it terms of major damage versus minor damage. New Jersey is major damage, and in that context, our damage is minor. That’s not to say it was minor in terms of some of our residents because a lot of them saw devastating damage. It’s certainly not minor to them.”
Three weeks after the storm, Fenwick is still picking up the pieces from the public standpoint while residents continue to assess and mitigate the damage.
“From the private side, we saw a ton of flood damage and wind damage and we’re doing our best to help our residents pick up the pieces and move forward,” he said. “From the town’s perspective, we are almost back to normal and are open for business and ready for a successful holiday season.”
Burke said storm damage assessment and mitigation has been a full-time job since Sandy influenced the coastal area in late October.
“We’ve basically been in recovery mode for three weeks now,” he said. “We’ve spent the last three weeks practically non-stop clearing the streets and helping our residents the best we can. With the recovery almost over from our public standpoint, we’re now stringing holiday lights and catching up on the tasks we put aside during the recovery.”
Fenwick and other resort areas in Sussex County and across Delaware could be getting some federal assistance after the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) late last week declared a state of emergency for the entire state. With the declaration, federal disaster aid could become available to supplement state and local recovery efforts, but Burke said he is uncertain just what it might mean for Fenwick.
“It’s a little too early to tell at this point,” he said. “Our building inspector is working with the residents who suffered damage and I think we’ve had at least eight property owners apply for relief. I believe we’ll qualify for some federal assistance.”
Despite the significant public and private damage, Burke said Fenwick, like Ocean City, got off comparatively easy compared to neighbors just a hundred miles away or so.
“We were very fortunate,” he said. “When I look at the devastation to our neighbors to the north, I just can’t get over the destruction and I think about how my life would be very different right now if the storm had hit like that here.”
Burke said town officials will begin to assess Fenwick’s storm preparation, its efforts during Sandy and the recovery mode following the storm’s passage to see what, if any, changes need to be made.
“We’re meeting with our emergency management team on November 30 to regroup and review what we could have done better, which is a basic procedure after an emergency event,” he said. “I’m sure there were things we could have done differently, but I can’t say enough about the job our staff did during and after the storm and just how proud I am of them.”