Coastal flooding a major threat to Delaware

 

DOVER — The threat of Hurricane Hermine has caused Gov. Jack Markell to issue a state of emergency for Sussex County due to the potential for serious flooding.

The National Weather Service declared all of Delaware is under a Tropical Storm Warning. The hurricane is expected to be making its way past Delaware today and Monday, with several inches of rain.

The National Weather Service predicted coastal areas in Sussex might receive 2 to 3 inches of rain. Wind gusts are expected to peak this afternoon.

“Tropical Storm Hermine is a powerful storm that will bring significant rainfall and localized flooding, especially in coastal and Delaware Bay communities in Sussex County,” Gov. Markell said in a statement. “I encourage Delawareans and visitors to our state to take precautions and stay tuned to weather forecasts and transportation updates throughout the weekend.”

In Dover, the city’s already-once-delayed fireworks show was canceled Saturday. The fireworks, originally postponed from July 4 due to bad weather at the time, were wiped out a second time due to weather.

State regulations say fireworks cannot be set off in winds of more than 20 miles per hour, and with the forecast predicting winds between 21 and 25 mph with gusts in the 30s, the show was canceled.

In addition to the fireworks, concerts, vendors, pony rides and moon bounces scheduled to be held around Legislative Mall did not take place Saturday.

Whether the fireworks are rescheduled for another date has not yet been determined by the 4th of July Committee.

Residents living in coastal areas are urged to pay attention to forecasts and be prepared to evacuate. While driving restrictions had not been issued as of Saturday evening, authorities requested anyone venturing out to check on possible limitations first.

Preparations and response

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had issued a state of emergency for Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and in Delaware, the National Guard was working alongside the Delaware Emergency Management Agency Saturday.

The Department of Transportation is monitoring the forecast, with workers ready to respond to situations if debris obstructs roads, drains clog or roadways become flooded.

The potential for flooding is strongest in Sussex along the beaches.

DelDOT cautioned drivers to be especially wary on Del. Route 1 between Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island and on the Charles W. Cullen Bridge over the Indian River Inlet on Route 1.

Delmarva Power customers can call 1-800-898-8042 to report power outages and check when they will be fixed, and Delaware Electric Cooperative members can call 855-332-9090 in the event of a power outage.

“Our concern is that as we go into Sunday and Monday, the storm will intensive and move back west, closer to the coast,” Coop spokesman Jeremy Tucker said in an email. “We have our crews positioned all across our service territory and contract crews on standby if things start to go downhill. Of course, we hope Hermine keeps inching further away, but we’re ready just in case. Aside from the high winds, we are also worried about major flooding along the coast, which could hamper restoration efforts if we experience significant outages.”

Individuals should not attempt to drive or walk through standing water, which could be much deeper than it appears and might contain electrical wires. According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, 6 inches of water can knock a person over and less than 2 feet of water can sweep a car away.

“Water depth is very difficult to gauge on roads, especially at night, when many flood deaths occur. AAA urges drivers to heed the National Weather Service mantra, ‘Turn Around, Don’t Drown,’” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Jim Lardear said in a statement.

Anyone caught outside during a storm should seek shelter, avoid flooded roadways and be on the lookout for downed wires.

Among those busy preparing for the storm were the state’s many fire companies.

Speaking in the early afternoon Saturday, Lewes Fire Department spokesman Glenn Marshall said the amount of rain predicted for the state had decreased but flooding remained a serious concern.

Mr. Marshall urged residents to carefully watch the forecast and be ready to evacuate their homes. People living near areas that may flood should create a survival kit ahead of time. Among the items to include are medication, food, water, flashlights, batteries, blankets and a first-aid kit.

Checking the gas in a car is highly recommended, as is reviewing insurance information and securing homes and outdoor belongings.

Families should also have a plan and a meeting place.

In coastal Kent County, Bowers Fire Company Chief Phillip Pennington said volunteers were “preparing for the worst.”

“We’re making sure all of our pumps and generators are ready for action, and if need be our guys are getting ready for any water rescues that need to be taken care of,” he said.

Coastal fire departments can also call in other companies if need be.

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Environmental Program Manager Mike Powell said DNREC was worried the storm would wash away beaches and dunes, leading to flooding inland.

“This storm has the potential to not only erode the beaches but also to cause damage to the dunes that would put us into a position going into the rest of the tropical storm season and then after that the northeastern season,” Mr. Powell said.

High tides today and Monday could cause water to flow past the dunes, flooding roads and houses. Because of the limited time in between high tides, the department does not have enough time to strengthen dunes during the storm, meaning officials are mostly stuck watching with bated breath.

“You’re pretty much stuck with the situation you have going into the storm and the recovery happens after the storm,” Mr. Powell said.

He recommended homeowners have their flood insurance information handy and be ready to make claims in the event of damage.

According to the National Weather Service, “Widespread moderate to major flooding is now expected with the Sunday evening high tide and the Monday morning high tide, especially from Atlantic City south to coastal Delaware, when the storm is expected to make its closest approach to the area. Coastal flooding may continue into Tuesday.”

Delawareans can check online for information on possible road closures and other information. DelDOT’s website has evacuation routes listed at http://www.deldot.gov/information/projects/tmt/evac_map.shtml and live traffic at http://www.DelDOT.gov/information/travel_advisory.

Drivers can also download DelDOT’s free app.

Information will be posted at https://twitter.com/GovernorMarkell, https://twitter.com/DelawareDOT and https://twitter.com/DelawareEMA as well.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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