After the Storm: Cecil County Recovers but Bay, Susquehanna Still a Worry
Cecil County began recovery from the mega-storm Sandy on Tuesday, after much of the region dodged the worst predictions of flooding and wind damage. But there were still concerns that post-Sandy flooding and environmental damage could affect the county from higher water levels on the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River.
Most of Cecil County escaped the worst of the hybrid storm, which slammed New Jersey and New York City with record flooding, and widespread local power outages were moving quickly to be repaired by Delmarva and Choptank crews. But state officials and independent weather experts warned that area residents might not have seen the last of the storm as tidal water levels may still rise and cause flooding.
Shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said it was “a pleasant surprise that we were not hit as hard” by the super storm as had been feared. “We prepared for the worst and the people of Maryland really rose to the occasion,” he said.
But shortly after the governor’s press conference, state officials reported that the death toll had risen to three, with a report of a storm-related auto fatality in Prince George’s county. Earlier, another traffic fatality was reported in Montgomery County and a tree crashing into a home in Anne Arundel County claimed another life.
The governor signed an executive order on Tuesday extending early voting until Friday, with extended hours on Wednesday and Thursday as well, to compensate for the two days of early voting lost on Monday and Tuesday due to the storm. As a result, Cecil County’s early voting center in the county administration building in Elkton will open earlier and remain open later than previously scheduled. The new early voting hours are: 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., and the governor said the centers would remain open even longer to allow people standing in line at 9 p.m. to cast their ballots.
Cecil County’s Department of Emergency Services (DES) reported that, as of 1.30 p.m. Tuesday, electric power to Delmarva Power customers was steadily being restored. From a highpoint of 40 percent of county Delmarva customers who lost power during the storm, continued outages numbered 15,400 customers. In southern Cecil, Choptank Rural Electric Cooperative had restored power to all but 43 of its 2,900 customers, DES reported.
As residents began to venture out on the roads Tuesday afternoon, DES reported that the following major roads were closed: Route 286 in the Chesapeake City area; MD 7 near Louisa Lane in Charlestown; and Delaware Ave in Elkton, which was flooded as it often is during storms. In addition, there were reduced speed limits and “partial obstacles” on Route 40 at Wells Camp Road, where “major utility work” was being conducted; and Route 272 in the area of Rogues Harbor. In addition, county roads officials reported that 61 secondary roads throughout the county had full or partial closures due to fallen trees or debris in the roadway.
The Hatem Bridge on Route 40, which was closed due to high winds on Monday, re-opened at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. And in Delaware, the DART bus services used by many Cecil County residents were expected to return to normal on Wednesday, with some exceptions and with possible delays due to detours for flood-damaged roadways, the agency reported.
[UPDATE: Tuesday evening, MARC officials announced that all MARC commuter train lines, including service from the Perryville station in Cecil County, would resume normal schedules on Wednesday. But MARC warned that there could be delays due to reduced speed limits in some areas due to water damage.]
Maryland state highway officials announced that as of noon Tuesday, an emergency speed limit reduction to 45 mph on state highways had been lifted, but cautioned motorists to remain off most roads so as to allow utility and road repair crews to conduct clean-up operations. But the Sandy-related blizzard conditions in Western Maryland led to closing I-68 in both directions as a one to two-foot snowfall was predicted in Garrett County, state highway officials reported.
In Cecil County, a “last resort” shelter for people displaced by the storm remained open after sheltering 22 people during the storm, DES reported, with just 12 people remaining as of Tuesday afternoon. A church in Elkton provided assistance to bring homeless people in from the storm and the Cecilton firehouse was available for shelter.
Cecilton Mayor Joseph Zang told Cecil Times the county’s southernmost town weathered the storm quite well, with electricity outages from 7.15 p.m. Monday until about 4 a.m. Tuesday. But the town’s water and sewage treatment plants used backup generators and there were no problems in the interim, he said.
One town resident on North Bohemia Ave. suffered major damage to a kitchen area of his house when a large oak tree fell onto the house, Zang said, but the resident remained in his house overnight.
But some areas along the Bay and the Susquehanna River might not yet be worry-free. Gov. O’Malley said during his morning briefing at the state emergency operations center that the Susquehanna River was still a concern, and “flooding issues will be with us for quite a few days.” He said that low-lying areas of Have de Grace in Harford County had been evacuated and state officials would be “keeping an eye” on water levels in the Upper Bay and outflows from the Conowingo Dam that raise water levels in the Susquehanna and Upper Bay in Cecil County.
[UPDATE: Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome said Tuesday evening that so far the town had not seen a significant storm surge along the river. A tree was down at Town Hall, but otherwise "We got lucky," he said.]
Justin Berk, an independent meteorologist and former Channel 2 Baltimore TV forecaster, posted concerns about high tides and higher water levels in the Bay on Tuesday, saying that unlike past storm “surges,” this time winds from the south were preventing “tides from going out while rainwater flows in.” Writing on Facebook late Tuesday afternoon, Berk warned that on the Bay, “many spots 5 feet above normal or higher as water flows down the Susquehanna” and overnight high tides could lead to flooding.
(A special chime of the Cecil Times clock to Berk in thanks for his tireless, informative postings before, during and after the storm. Never one to hype, he provided sound information and detailed data, conducting a one-man meteorology class for his readers that never sounded like a lecture but educated us nonetheless.)
As power outages and regular Internet services were affected by the storm, ‘Smartphone’ access to social media sites became a key source of information and communication for many county residents, even though in some areas cell services were limited and speeds reduced during and after the storm.
Alex Brown, a local author (“Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy”) and exercise rider at the Fair Hill Training Center reported on Facebook that the equine center weathered the storm quite well and conditions were “relatively normal,” with many horses able to take their usual runs around the tracks Tuesday morning.
[And on Twitter, H. Graham Motion, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, wrote: "All quiet at Fair Hill...minimal effects from the storm. We lucked out." Animal Kingdom was not in his usual barn at Fair Hill but in California, where he is getting ready to run this weekend in the Breeders' Cup.]
Rising Sun Town Commissioner Travis Marion reported Tuesday afternoon that the town survived the storm without major problems and storm drain cleaning was underway in the afternoon. He said town hall would re-open on Wednesday at 8 a.m. and he also commended Harri Ann Caskey who napped on the floor at town hall overnight to monitor computer systems.
The waterfront Nauti-Goose restaurant in North East posted photos mid-day Tuesday showing the Northeast River was below its piers and docks and reported that the restaurant and bar would remain closed on Wednesday but re-open to customers on Thursday. The first post-storm high tide on the North East river, at 11.11 a.m. Tuesday, produced only slightly elevated water levels in low-lying areas, the county’s DES reported.