Cecil County Storm Stories: Road, Emergency Crews Weather the Crisis; Sleepless in Cecilton
Cecil County‚Äôs heroes of the storm told the County Commissioners Tuesday of their long hours to clear roads, assist power companies and help individual citizens trapped by Friday night‚Äôs sudden, severe thunderstorm and winds that left downed trees, power outages and damage through a wide swathe of southern Cecil County.
And County Health Officer Stephanie Garrity defended the county‚Äôs policy of not opening up designated ‚Äúcooling stations‚ÄĚ to residents sweltering in the weekend heat without power and air conditioning. She cited a John Hopkins University study that found heat-related deaths in the state were usually caused by complicating factors, such as age, alcohol use and other health conditions such as heart disease.
Richard Brooks, the county‚Äôs director of Emergency Services, related that the county had no advance warnings of the storm threat from the National Weather Service but by late Friday evening state emergency officials sounded an alarm, followed by increasingly ominous watches and warnings. He said of particular concern was the presence of about 150 boats in the basin area at Chesapeake City, who had arrived in advance of the Saturday Canal Fest event.
Emergency officials ‚Äúwent boat to boat,‚ÄĚ beginning at about 11 p.m., to warn of the impending storm threat, he said. But most of the boaters seemed more interested in their partying than taking onshore shelter, he added.
Cecilton and the Hack‚Äôs Point area were hard hit once the storm roared through, Brooks said, and the county‚Äôs Department of Public Works activated its southern county unit right away and ‚Äúresponded with exceptional enthusiasm to get on the streets.‚ÄĚ
Scott Flanigan, director of DPW, said other employees from around the county were brought in to rotate in and provide relief as needed. He said there were crews of 15 people each rotating services at the peak of the storm cleanup efforts. Road crews helped clear trees blocking roads and assisted power company staff who had the first response to trees that were entwined with power lines.
The Stemmers Run trash transfer facility could not open on Saturday because it lacked power and trees blocked the road leading to the facility. (Stemmers Run Road beyond the trash station is currently closed to traffic due to unrelated construction work on a culvert nearby.)
Flanigan said that the county‚Äôs sewage treatment plants functioned on backup generators as needed and there were no spills or problems.
County EMS officials said all Choptank Rural Electric Co-Op customers were restored but Delmarva Power still had about 900 outages as of Tuesday morning. County officials also said that about 20 storm-damaged houses were inspected and posted as ‚Äúunsafe,‚ÄĚ but no houses were ‚Äúcondemned,‚ÄĚ contrary to reports published elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Garrity, the health officer, responded to questions about the county‚Äôs policy on ‚Äėcooling centers,‚Äô which are used in many other counties and especially in Baltimore City when power outages and sweltering temperatures pose health hazards. She said there is no ‚Äúformal‚ÄĚ policy of setting up such centers although every storm season her department alerts citizens to be ‚Äúprepared‚ÄĚ with emergency supplies including water and directing them to seek shelter with family or go to public buildings such as public libraries if they need to cool off.
However, the libraries in Cecilton and Chesapeake City were without power in the aftermath of the storm on Saturday and they are normally closed on Sundays.
She cited a Johns Hopkins study of heat-related deaths that found of 156 heat-related deaths between 2003 and 20010 in the state, most involved ‚Äėhigh risk‚ÄĚ people who did not avail themselves of cooling centers in Baltimore and in Prince George‚Äôs county, which had the highest numbers of heat deaths. Most had other issues, such as age and health problems that contributed to the deaths. Cecil County had six heat-related deaths during that period, she said.
Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5), whose home was without power for an extended period, said lack of water was ‚Äúa big issue‚ÄĚ as far as he was concerned. ‚ÄúI can live without food but I can‚Äôt live without showers,‚ÄĚ he said. He thought in the future provision should be made for the elderly and the poor who cannot find alternative shelter to be aided, at least as far as provision of water.
In hard-hit Cecilton, the county‚Äôs southernmost town, Mayor Joe Zang spent a sleepless weekend as he monitored a ‚Äúlift station‚ÄĚ that had no back up generator to direct sewage to the town‚Äôs sewage treatment plant. Every few hours, he and town staff lifted a lid on the unit and calculated how much more flow it could take, before he had to call in a private pumping service to collect the sewage and deliver it via truck to the town sewage plant for disposal. The town‚Äôs water and sewage treatment plants have backup generators that worked well during the crisis, Zang told Cecil Times.
‚ÄúI kept calling Delmarva,‚ÄĚ he said, crediting the power company‚Äôs liaison staff with keeping him posted on developments. By the time power was finally restored early Sunday morning, ‚Äúwe were just a few hours away‚ÄĚ from having to go to ‚Äúplan B‚ÄĚ to prevent a sewage spill.
Apart from the lack of sleep and the nerve-wracking wait for power to be restored while also using town equipment to help clear trees from roads, Zang said it was heart-warming to see how everyone in the town pulled together to help one another. There was a back-up plan to offer water and ice at the Cecilton fire house, but it was not needed because neighbors helped neighbors in the community.
[UPDATE: Mayor Zang advises us that much credit, and thanks, should go to Jay Paxson, the town's maintenance man, for "operating town equipment and working with me to make sure our citizens were taken care of." So thanks, and a big chime of the Cecil Times clock, for a job well done.]