60 Years Later, Local Historian Remembers ’62 Storm

60 Years Later, Local Historian Remembers ’62 Storm
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Parker

OCEAN CITY — The March Storm of 1962 was the worst natural disaster in the history of Ocean City.

A Nor’easter — not a hurricane — raged through three high tide cycles on March 6 and 7 causing the ocean and bay to meet and flood downtown. Weather reporting was limited in those days so most local residents were unaware that a big storm was coming. Many were trapped in their homes by the rising flood waters and rescued by the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company. Using boats and fire engines they were taken to the Route 50 Bridge where a fleet of school buses carried them to shelter in Berlin.


Photo courtesy of Mel Toadvine

In the sparsely populated northern sections (the city limits ended at 41st Street in 1962) many houses were washed off their foundations and destroyed. Near 71st Street a small temporary inlet was created by the storm surge. Dozens of people living north of there were taken to safety by the Coast Guard in a WWII-era amphibious vehicle known as a “Duck.” Several cottages in that area burned to the waterline when the fire department was unable to reach them.

Two local men lost their lives. One died of exposure after his car was stuck in the newly created 71st Street inlet while another drowned after being washed overboard from a commercial fishing boat off of Assateague Island. The storm destroyed the Boardwalk and caused enormous property damage -particularly in those sections of the beach where most of the cottages were built on slabs. Some were washed out into the ocean or ended up in the bay. Massive piles of sand covered the streets and filled the first floors of many beachfront properties; it would take days to clear the roads. Ocean City was a disaster zone and Memorial Day — the opening of the summer season — was only 12 weeks away.


Photo courtesy of Hale Harrison

Martial law was declared and the National Guard was sent to Ocean City to prevent looting and protect the devastated town. They would be housed at the Ocean City Elementary School (today’s City Hall); over 200 would be called to duty. Roadblocks were set up at the Route 50 Bridge by the Maryland State Police and no one was allowed to enter the town without proof of residency.

Ocean City didn’t give up. Under the leadership of Mayor Hugh Cropper, Jr. and the help of massive state aid sent by Gov. J. Millard Tawes, the town dug out and pulled itself together. In the weeks following the storm, debris was burned at the baseball field between 3rd and 4th streets on Philadelphia Avenue. By the end of May the Boardwalk had been rebuilt and the beach cleaned. Repairs were made to the hotels and apartments and by Memorial Day the town was once again open for business.