Slaughter Beach community pulls together during storm

SLAUGHTER BEACH — A full moon high tide, northeast wind and ice pack conditions were ripe for flooding conditions.

Winds gusted furiously and waters rose as Winter Storm Jonas visited Delaware beaches this weekend, but the stay was fortunately short lived.

As Slaughter Beach Fire Company members remained hunkered down early Saturday, a 3-foot storm surge developed within an hour, pushing water over dunes in the south end of town and threatening to flood nearby marshes.

“We were in the firehouse and could hear what was going on around us outside,” Deputy Chief Dan Walls said. “There was no doubt we were in the middle of it.”

Pictured on Sunday is an aerial view of the Lewes coastline. (Submitted photo/U.S. Rep. John Carney)

Pictured on Sunday is an aerial view of the Lewes coastline. (Submitted photo/U.S. Rep. John Carney)

Winds blew consistently at 50 mph overnight, and Slaughter Beach Mayor Harry Ward reported them peaking at 81 mph at approximately 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

“In my 13 years here and from most others’ memories, it was the worst short intensity storm that anyone could remember,” Mayor Ward said.

For several hours that followed, Mayor Ward described the town of 205 residents as an island. By Monday morning, however, the water over Slaughter Beach Road and Bay Avenue had crept back to where driving in and out of town was again possible.

A dune breach of 50 to 60 feet long threatened to bring marsh flooding, the mayor said.

“The dune overwash and beach erosion was worst on the south end,” said Mayor Ward, who noted that 20 feet of beach was washed and blown away in front of his home.

No medical emergencies were reported, though siding and shingles were torn off from more than a dozen residences during the wind bursts. A south end deck was damaged severely, and residents spent Monday morning picking wood and trash off the beach as the recovery began.

Neighbors checked on neighbors throughout the storm, and also on property owned by out-of-towners.

“The community really pulled together and looked out for each other,” Mayor Ward said.

If another storm arrives in the next few days, significant damage could ensue due to the current lack of dune coverage, Mayor Ward said.

A Monday night emergency town council meeting was to address the best steps forward, including a search for any county, state, and federal funds that might be available. Mayor Ward spoke with DNREC Secretary David Small, along with the Delaware Department of Transportation to assess coordinated response during the upcoming recovery.

The Delaware National Guard reported it helped evacuate roughly 40 residents from the Oak Orchard/Long Neck area to area shelters or homes of friends due to flooding in Sussex County.
Monday assessment

DNREC Secretary David Small

DNREC Secretary David Small

On Monday, Secretary Small said the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control was operating an assessment program to “get a sense of where we have the greatest vulnerabilities.”

He described the storm as “marked by pretty intensive, yet short lived wind energy.”

Several beach areas on the Delaware Bay could not be reached Sunday, including Slaughter, Broadkill and Prime Hook. An aerial review was conducted.

“We’ve heard from some residents and we’ve heard from elected officials,” Secretary Small said. “Once we have a fairly comprehensive review” of the circumstances, a plan would reinforce some beach areas and replace oceanfront sand loss, he said.

Seizing on positive factors, Secretary Small said much of the sand lost was swept offshore and would likely begin returning to the coast through natural conditions if the weather cooperates. Broadkill Beach held up especially well, he said, and breaches previously closed at Prime Hook also maintained their structure.

With a full moon high tide ongoing, Secretary Small said much water was pushed into tributaries, affecting downtown areas in Milford and Milton.

The response inland

Inland and to the north, 35 Clayton Fire Company members manned the station during a 41-hour stretch from 7 p.m. Friday into Sunday morning. While 11 members were on site throughout the entire span, others contributed shift time and “whatever they could do,” according to spokesman Kevin Wilson.

Eventually, members worked a total of 1,434 man hours, and managed to keep two engines and a ladder truck available for immediate response at all times.

“Having members man the station reduces response times during the storm, providing quicker service to our citizens,” Fire Chief Skip Carrow said.

All told, Clayton Fire Company was called for eight citizen assists, two medical assists, two automatic fire alarms, an accident with wires down and a CPR response.

The high turnout by fire company members was due to a forecast of heavy precipitation that was made several days out, Mr. Wilson said. Typically, a forecast of a couple inches will bring some members to the company in case of a call, he said.

“We are a volunteer organization where dedication is always focused on our mission of helping the citizens,” Clayton Fire Company President Robert Faulkner said.

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