As flood waters finally drained from neighborhoods in southeastern Virginia Monday, disaster responders were relieved to find the damage was not as severe as it had been feared.
In the midst of the nor'easter that battered the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to New Jersey, some residents of communities in Norfolk and Hampton Roads, Va., were forced to literally swim out of their homes and apartments. At the storm's peak, more than 100,000 customers of Virginia Dominion Power Company were without electricity and at least 250 people stayed in shelters.
Compared by many to the devastating 1962 Ash Wednesday storm because of the number of days and high tides both storms inflicted on the Mid-Atlantic coast, as water receded "it was neighbors helping neighbors," said Jane Prinz of the Virginia Volunteers Active in Disaster (VOAD).
Bob Pihlcrantz of the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church said church members provided transportation for evacuees during the storm.
While initial assessments continued Monday, by Saturday night nearly 500 buildings with storm related damage had been identified. Although most of the damage was relatively minor, at least 10 buildings were destroyed and 36 others tallied major damage. "We were expecting it to be a lot worse," said Pam Wakefield of the American Red Cross.
Homes and businesses were damaged up and down the Atlantic Coast.
About 5,000 Hatteras Island, NC, residents were cut-off from the mainland when 800-feet of NC Route 12 was washed out at Mirlo Beach. By Saturday, officials were ferrying residents and emergency vehicles off the island while repairs were made to the highway.
In Oak Orchard, a community along the Indian River Bay near Millsboro, Delaware, residents were caught off-guard by the intensity of the storm. More than 40 residents were transported by the Delaware National Guard, said Lt. Nathan Bright, a Guard spokesman. The residents were taken to churches on higher ground, including the Community Church of Oak Orchard.
The church community provided shelter for people who were pushed out of their homes by rising flood water, said church secretary Linda Mansker, who prepared hot dogs and sauerkraut for everyone to eat during the night.
The guard put in more than 1,000 sandbags in the most affected areas around Oak Orchard. Bright said they provided cots to the nearly 100 people displaced by the storm.
While Gov. Jack Markell did not issue a mandatory evacuation, many residents chose to leave the lowest lying areas of Delaware, including Dewey Beach. Laying just south of Rehoboth Beach, a popular tourist destination, Dewey Beach is surrounded by water. To the east, the Atlantic Ocean pounded the beach with waves and to the west, Rehoboth Bay breached its banks. Residents of Dewey are used to the summer storms and nor'easters that can do damage to the thin slip of land, but this storm caught them off guard because it was after the season, said resident Linda Reck of Dewey.
On Saturday Reck and her two friends, Karen Hill and Elizabeth Browning decided to bike around Dewey to view the damage. During the storm and into Friday night, Route 1, the main (and in some places) only through-route in southern Delaware was closed at Dewey Beach. Even on Saturday, Route 1 south of Dewey remained shut off by police and emergency vehicles.
"The storm pushed so much water across the highway, that the sand makes the road a mess," said Hill. "We wanted to see how far down we could get."
South of Dewey Beach, the road is surrounded by wetlands and park land until the road reaches the Indian River Inlet Bridge. The bridge is the only connection on the eastern coast of Delaware for residents to get from Dewey Beach to the southern towns of Bethany Beach. The bridge was closed so safety inspections could be made.
Browning said the water during the storm was higher than she had ever seen it in her years of living in Dewey.
"We live in a neighborhood on the bay side and our dock is completely underwater. The water came up in the grass. I never saw that before," said Browning. "The houses at the end of our neighborhood were like islands."
Tony Pratt, shoreline management division for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said in most coastal areas the dunes held up, but sustained damage. In Rehoboth Beach, when the storm moved on up the coast, there were five-foot drop-offs from the dunes.
In a few areas of the Delaware Coast the dunes were breached, including in Bethany Beach. Pratt said the storm was the worst coastal Delaware has seen in more than a decade. He said officials will start assessing damage and cleaning up this week - adding that it will take a large effort to build up the eastern coast beaches.
In New Jersey, Cape May County, the southernmost county in the state, appeared to have sustained the worst damage as a result of the storm. The most severe flooding occurred along the back-bay areas and water flooded several beach towns including Wildwood and Avalon. A coastal bridge connecting Avalon and Sea Isle City was damaged when an unsecured barge rammed the structure.
Beach erosion along the Jersey shore was significant. New Jersey environmental officials said. The beach completely vanished north of 21st Street in Avalon.
More links on Tropical Storms
More links on Severe Weather