Initial Damage Assessment Paints Bleak Picture
A Category 2 hurricane (Hurricane Horatio) came roaring through Rehoboth Beach last night with the eye passing over the area about 2:15 am. The National Weather Service (NWS) had predicted that this storm would be much further west and would likely miss most of coastal Delaware but beginning about 2 pm yesterday afternoon, southwesterly winds started pushing the storm east and increased the forward speed so that the eye of the storm passed within 20 miles west of Rehoboth Beach. A hurricane warning was posted for the Delaware coastline yesterday at 4 pm. The storm’s forward speed slowed down to less than 10 mph and by the time it passed the town, it was estimated to be moving at only 6 mph. The storm track was north-northwest at the time the eye was in the area. The eye passed directly over the Midway Theater complex. Rainfall totals are approximately 10 inches in the Rehoboth Beach area.
There are no anemometers that appear to have survived the storm, however the NWS estimates the sustained wind speed was approximately 105 mph. Power outages are reported from Ocean City, MD to Dover, DE. There are widespread outages at the beach areas from the coastline to an area approximately 50 miles inland. Hurricane force winds may have extended as far as 40 miles from the center of the storm. Tropical storm force winds may have extended as far as 80 miles from the center of the storm.
Route 1 is reported to be full of debris with limited traffic allowed both north and south bound from Fenwick Island to north of Five Points at Lewes, DE. Traffic is being stopped at Five Points and at the south end of Bethany Beach and only emergency and government vehicles are being granted access to the beach areas.
Flooding has been reported as extensive and deep particularly inland along the bay front properties. Storm surge has been reported to be as high as 15 ft at the coastline and 8 ft deep 200 yards inland. The passage of the storm coincided with high tide. The recent heavy rainfall during the summer will likely exacerbate the flooding problem and extend the duration of flooding since there will be nowhere for the water to drain. Those who live in low lying areas should contact the local emergency managers or police to find out if access to their home sites has been granted.
There is no water or sewer service, and at this time there are no estimates for resumption of those services. All citizens are warned that the water systems are probably contaminated and to boil water before drinking. Septic systems in many locations have likely failed because of the depth of flooding. Property owners with septic systems should seek professional inspections to certify their septic systems as safe before resuming use.
There are reports of many propane tanks being torn from their foundations or floating to the surface if buried. Property owners should contact their propane supplier prior to resumption of use of this service.
It is reported that over 7,000 people sought shelter last night due to the late movement of the storm toward the east coast. It is not clear yet, where those people went. There are reports of buildings that might have been shelters being severely damaged. There are reports that the roof of the Rehoboth Beach library had a roof failure and both the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center and the Chamber of Commerce building lost part of the roof and walls collapsed. A new shelter planned for construction in 2009 had obviously not yet been placed in service.
Both the police and fire departments have had to seek temporary quarters as both their buildings were damaged by the storm and both sustained extensive water damage. The local 911 call center is currently not operating. Many cell phone towers are down and only very limited cell phone service is available.
Very preliminary damage assessments put the building damage level at:
20% - moderate damage to commercial and residential buildings
25% - minor damage to commercial and residential buildings
The definitions of these damage categories are:
Severe damage – a complete or partial failure in the buildings structural system, almost always with part of the roof involved which allows water entry
Moderate damage – no structural failure but severe building envelope loss such as roof covering partially or completely damaged, windows, doors, walls or roofs broken or penetrated by windborne debris, any condition that would allow water entry
Minor damage - some roof or wall covering loss, loss of roof soffits, damage to utilities or building mechanical equipment
State and local officials are meeting today to continue damage assessments and to determine when the federal government will be asked for assistance and for a declaration as a federal disaster. Senator Biden will visit the area later today and has promised to speak to the President after his visit.