BREAKING NEWS: Inlet Bridge, Route 1 reopen

The Delaware State Police and Department of Transportation reopened Route 1 between Dewey Beach and Fred Hudson Road/Road 360 north of Bethany Beach and the Indian River Inlet Bridge late Tuesday afternoon, following a detailed inspection of the inlet and surrounding roadways. Remaining closed Tuesday, due to high water, were: Fred Hudson Road in the area of Route 1 and Old Mill Road in Millville, as well as several other roads in the Lewes, Slaughter Beach and Oak Orchard areas.

Both the bridge and the roadway had been closed since Tuesday afternoon, due to tidal flooding that covered both the north- and southbound lanes of Route 1. Also closed Monday afternoon were Fred Hudson Road in the area near Route 1 and Old Mill Road in Millville, which crosses flood-prone White's Creek.

Crews posted variable message boards and detour signs in the vicinity to alert motorists the Route 1 closure around 4:30 p.m. on Monday. Motorists traveling south on Route 1 were advised to take Route 24 to U.S. 113 to Route 26. Northbound motorists on Route 1 were directed to take Routes 26 or 54 west to U.S. 113 north.

Officials in the Indian River School District announced Monday evening that schools on Tuesday would open two hours late, with no morning kindergarten.

The National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, N.J., continued a coastal flood warning for Sussex County through 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The Indian River School District closed its schools two hours early on Monday, citing severe weather conditions throughout the area. Afternoon kindergarten was canceled for the day, while Indian River High School’s band and chorus concert was rescheduled for Monday, May 19, at 7 p.m. Lord Baltimore Elementary School in Ocean View was among the buildings that lost power at various points during the day Monday as the weather’s impact spread, and IRSD officials on Monday evening announced a two-hour delay for school on Tuesday, May 13.

Bethany Beach flooding May 12, 2008: Recent storm activity has caused Bethany Beach roadways to flood. Pictured is the view south from the north end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Coastal Point Photo • SHAUN LAMBERT

Recent storm activity has caused Bethany Beach roadways to flood. Pictured is the view south from the north end of Pennsylvania Avenue.State officials were in the Bethany Beach area on Monday to survey damage from the ongoing storm as pounding waves driven onshore by the wind ate away the newly constructed dune and devastated recently installed dune fencing. The most dramatic impacts from the storm included the beaching off Bethany Beach’s boardwalk of a damaged research vessel that broke apart and took on water 14 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach earlier on Monday. The Coast Guard had evacuated the crew of the vessel by helicopter and transported them to the hospital in Salisbury, Md.

Motorists were being detoured mid-afternoon from Route 26 at White’s Neck Road, near the Millville Pet Stop, due to a large tree downed next to the roadway, near power lines. A car was reported struck by a fallen tree on Cedar Neck Road mid-day Monday. Flooding on the area’s bays and creeks expanded as high tide neared Monday afternoon and winds continued to drive floodwaters into the waterways’ farthest reaches with no way for the incoming tide to escape.

Damage reported througout the area Monday included cars damaged at two Selbyville-area car dealerships by falling trees and signs, as well as some damage to the Mountaire poultry processing plant. A sign for the Cottage Cafe near Bethany Beach was also felled by the strong winds Monday, and property owners reported numerous broken and fallen trees across area. Fenwick Island Building Official Pat Schuchman reported that one property in the town had lost a roof, while others lost some shingles or siding, with minimal damage. She said back-bay flooding had persisted through high tides on Monday and Tuesday morning.

Officials with the Delaware State Police, Delaware Department of Transportation and Sussex County Emergency Operations Center continued to monitor the storm mid-day Monday, and encouraged the public to use caution if traveling on area roadways during the next 12 to 24 hours. An already saturated ground combined with strong winds could easily knock over trees, obstructing or damaging roadways, they said.

“I think a major concern is going to be water on the roads and some debris, such as downed tree limbs. We want to make sure the public is aware of this, and avoids traveling if possible until the storm passes,” said Joseph L. Thomas, director of the Sussex County EOC.

Some moderate tidal flooding has been reported in the Slaughter Beach and Long Neck communities, which are prone to flooding during these events. No evacuations, however, have been ordered in those communities, nor are they necessary, county officials said. Emergency managers have not opened shelters, but are prepared to activate such facilities if it becomes necessary.

Thousands of power interruptions have occurred throughout the county as a result of the storm. Crews for both the Delaware Electric Cooperative and Delmarva Power continued their work Monday to restore electricity to those affected customers. The two companies reported as many as 30,000 customers without power, combined, at the peak of the outages.

Delaware State Police and the Department of Transportation reported three road closures as of 1 p.m. Monday, in the Oak Orchard and Slaughter Beach areas, due to water covering the roadways. Those closures expanded throughout the afternoon and continued into the night.

Tree felled in Millville area, blocking Route 26 traffic: A tree fell next to the Millville Pet Stop, and officials had to reroute traffic from Route 26 to give emergency personnel room to remove the tree. Coastal Point Photo • SUSAN LYONS

A tree fell next to the Millville Pet Stop, and officials had to reroute traffic from Route 26 to give emergency personnel room to remove the tree.

Cpl. Wes Barnett, state police spokesman, advised that if motorists must travel, they should allow extra time and avoid passing through areas that are under water.

“Most area roads are passable right now, but conditions could change as the storm continues,” Barnett said. “We have had numerous reports of downed wires, trees and tree limbs in roadways, and we also have had flooding on some streets and highways. Motorists need to use their best judgment when traveling, and they should prepare for the possibility of delays throughout this event.”

Downtown Bethany Beach on Tuesday morning remained flooded with Pennsylvania Avenue closed from Garfield Parkway to the north, though some drivers found ways around traffic barriers and used side streets to access the flooded area. Trash cans and newspaper boxes floated down the street. A high-water mark on the steps leading to Bethany Blues indicated the water had dropped at least 5 inches from its high point to the level seen at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Water continued to swirl deep around Sedona.

County residents were urged to call 911 only in emergencies. Those with storm-related calls – to report downed trees or power lines, flooding or power outages – can call the EOC’s non-emergency telephone line at (302) 856-6306.

Beach damage assessment begins

Tony Pratt, program administrator for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s (DNREC’s) Shoreline and Waterway Division, was in the area on Monday, surveying the damage that had already taken place and keeping abreast of ongoing storm impacts to the area’s beaches.

“It will be at least 24 hours, when the storm really starts to lay down, before we’ll know what the damage is,” he said Monday afternoon. “It should back off a little bit tonight, but until we have 2-foot seas and the offshore wind dies down, we really won’t know what we have.”

“The high tide is working through now. It was at 3 on the ocean coast,” he added. “I didn’t think we’d have another tide we had to worry about and we now have possibly one more tonight. But the wind hasn’t laid down at all, so we have another tide to worry about.”

Pratt said the damage thus far included some major dune erosion from Rehoboth Beach down to Fenwick Island, particularly to the north.

“We’re taking quite a beating at the north end of Rehoboth Beach,” he said from that town. “We are seeing dune damage, and this event isn’t finished yet. … We are losing dune in Rehoboth, and parts of dunes all over. In Bethany, we’re losing the front part of the dune,” he noted. “In South Bethany, it’s pretty tight. It looked good an hour ago.”

South Bethany was seeing problems with blown sand – a common occurrence in the town from a nor’easter, even before beach reconstruction. Pratt said the town would be clearing sand from Ocean Drive, where it started to create its own mini-dunes Monday, as usual, after the storm.

Fenwick Island Town Manager Tony Carson said the town's beach had seen a pretty rough tide.

"Water came up to the dune line. But it looks like it held up as good as can expected in weather like that," he said, adding, "The good thing is we are having the beach clean–up on Saturday, so it's good timing for that!"

The most concrete damage to the recently completed replenishment effort may be damage to the new beach walkways in Bethany and South Bethany. Pratt said, “The front end of the dune is chopped off, so the walkways are chopped off.” By 9 a.m. Tuesday, the damage was clear – a 6-foot and higher drop-off in some locations from the remaining portion of the dune to the beach, with dune fence dangling over the edge. Residents clustered at the end of what was left of the beach walkways, peering down the beach at the grounded research vessel.

Pratt said Monday afternoon that the damage in south coastal Delaware to that point was minimal compared to that to the north.

“Right now, we’re having severe prop damage on the Delaware Bay,” he emphasized. “On the ocean coast, we’re looking at wind damage, trees down, siding coming off, but we’re not worried along the ocean coast about any house taking damage, or any sewer line, water line or roadway.”

Indeed, Pratt said much of what he was seeing in the Bethany Beach area appeared to be good news for the newly replenished beaches.

“The damage is all confined to sand and fencing, which is good news,” he said. “I can only imagine what South Bethany would look like with this storm if we didn’t have the new dune. Half of Ocean Drive would be gone now and most of the town flooded, the same with Bethany, if we hadn’t had this in place.”

Pratt said the minimal damage thus far was an indicator of the success of the storm protection factor provided by the beach reconstruction project.

“That’s what we planned for. That’s what we wanted the sacrifice to be – not the town and not the boardwalk,” he emphasized. “We’ll know how well it really fared in a few weeks.”

Pratt said DNREC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would come back and fix whatever damage was done to the replenished shorelines in this storm.

“We can’t put it back before Memorial Day the way it looked two days ago, but we will have people on the beach, and the towns will serviceable,” he promised of the upcoming kickoff to the summer season. “The beach is going, if it calms down, to look pretty good, and it will be a nice place for people to recreate on. We’ll get it built back up and the fencing back in place.”

Weather watch continuing into Tuesday

The National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., issued a coastal flood warning for the Delaware beaches at 4:27 a.m. on Monday, May 12. The warning notes widespread minor tidal flooding along the entire coasts of New Jersey and Delaware, with areas of moderate tidal flooding across the southern end of New Jersey and Delaware. Mid-morning Monday, significant flooding had already been noted along Coastal Highway (Route 1) and Route 54, as well as in downtown Bethany Beach and along the area’s bays and creeks.

NWS officials issued a reminder to residents and visitors to move their cars to higher ground prior to the high tide on Monday and Monday night, as low pressure over the Chesapeake Bay was expected to move slowly off the New Jersey shore later Monday, with strong east-to-northeast winds through much of the day.

The coastal flood warning will be in effect until 8 a.m. Tuesday, with strong onshore flow expected to cause widespread minor tidal flooding on the oceanfront and the adjacent back bays around the time of high tide Monday and again Monday tonight. Areas of moderate tidal flooding could occur with the higher of the two tides along the Southern New Jersey and Delaware coasts Monday tonight, they said.

The following are times of high tide and water level forecasts, referenced to mean lower low water (mllw), for points along the New Jersey and Delaware oceanfront:

For Cape May, N.J. The next high tide will occur at 3:48 p.m. Monday afternoon, with a forecast of 7.5 to 8 feet above mllw. High tide is again at 4:03 a.m. Tuesday with a forecast of around 7.5 to 8 feet above mllw, and 4:51 p.m. Tuesday with a height of 7.5 feet above mllw.

At Fenwick Island, Del., the next high tide will occur at 2:46 p.m. Monday and is forecast around 6.5 feet mllw. High tide is due again at 2:58 a.m. Tuesday and is forecast between 6.5 and 7 feet mllw, and 4:56 p.m. Tuesday afternoon with a height of 6.0 to 6.5 feet above mllw.

This type of storm is not common for the month of May, according to the NWS, and can cause inconveniences for commuters traveling to and from the barrier islands during the times of high tide. Some heavy rain is also going to be falling, with strong winds adding to the stormy conditions at the shore.

The worst of the storm was expected to be the first part of Monday.

A coastal flood warning means that flooding is imminent. Coastal residents in the warned area should be alert for rising water and take appropriate action to protect life and property, including moving vehicles to higher ground at the times of high tide.

NWS officials also issued a high wind warning mid-morning Monday that will be in effect until 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, replacing an earlier wind advisory.

Strong low pressure organizing southeast of the Delmarva Peninsula was expected to strengthen a bit more and then lift northeast Monday. Wind gusts in excess of 55 mph have occurred and are expected to continue as the low strengthens and then lifts northeast. Wind gusts in excess of 60 mph were reported in Bethany Beach.

Winds of this strength will bring down trees and some power lines, especially in any areas where the ground is saturated, they noted. Sporadic power loss had been reported throughout the Delaware beach area during Monday morning.

A high wind warning means a hazardous high wind event is expected or occurring. Sustained wind speeds of at least 40 mph or gusts of 58 mph or more can lead to property damage. Residents should take suitable precautions with potential wind-blown objects.

Coastal Point Staff Reporters Ryan Saxton and Monica Fleming contributed to this story. Pick up this week’s issue of the Coastal Point on May 16 and stay tuned to for more information and photographs of this week’s storm damage.