Except for Garrett County, Maryland gets off lucky with storm -- Gazette.Net


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Overall, officials said, Maryland emerged from Hurricane Sandy relatively unscathed, considering the havoc it wreaked in other states.

“As bad as we thought we were going to get hit, the worst really went to the north of us,” said Edward J. McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

The biggest concern for MEMA, he said, is in Garrett County.

After colliding with a cold front from the west, the storm dumped more than 3 feet of snow in the Western Maryland county, leaving about 20,000 customers without power. Snow continued to fall through Thursday, as Potomac Edison worked to restore electricity and crews tried to clear roads.

“My road, it was like a war zone,” said Del. Wendell R. Beitzel (R-Dist. 1A) of Accident of the innumerable trees that fell under the heavy, wet snow, knocking down power lines with them.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, more than 13,547 customers, about 60 percent, still were without power in the county.

State Highway Administration, MEMA and the Maryland National Guard moved personnel and equipment to Garrett County on Wednesday when they no longer were needed in other areas.

“Caravans of vehicles are coming into the county,” Beitzel said. “That’s what we needed, was people to cut trees and get wires back up ... There will be plenty of firewood for anyone who wants it.”

Crisfield, a town of 2,700 in Somerset County on the edge of the Eastern Shore, saw major flooding, and residents had to be evacuated.

“Life and limb were saved, and we’re quite thankful for that,” said Del. Charles J. Otto (R-Dist. 38A) of Princess Anne, who represents Crisfield. “The property damage will be quite extensive, but I believe for the magnitude of this storm and what it could have been, we fared well.”

Although Ocean City lost half of its main fishing pier, and the streets were flooded for hours, the city is calling the impact of Sandy “minimal.”

But there’s no way to know yet just how much the storm will cost state and local governments, McDonough said.

“We’ve got a snowstorm that’s still going on in Garrett County,” McDonough said Wednesday. “I don’t know how [damage from] that’s going to be calculated, because it’s a snowstorm tacked onto a hurricane. They don’t write the manual for writing up a presidential declaration of emergency with these kinds of events in mind.”

Declarations of emergency free up federal aid for state and local governments and can provide assistance for individuals and businesses.

State and local agencies will have to tally up items such as overtime, receipts for supplies, and even the extra gasoline used by vehicles before they’ll know how much the storm cost.

EQECAT, a California company that calculates the price tag for disasters, estimates that Sandy, all told, cost anywhere from $30 billion to $50 billion in damage and lost business in its path.

Preliminary assessments from the Maryland Department of Agriculture indicate that farmers across the state experienced minimal damage.

“Overall, Maryland agriculture fared well with no significant loss or structural damage,” Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance said in a statement. “USDA’s Farm Service Agency will further assess damages to agriculture — crops, livestock, conservation — and we should have a better indication of those estimates in the coming weeks.”

Even the Chesapeake Bay, which often is inundated with sediment and nutrients from runoff after major storms, won’t be in as bad condition as after previous storms, officials at the Department of Natural Resources said.

“[Sandy] had a lot less impact with the storm coming in late October than it would coming in the summer months,” said Bruce Michael, director of the Resource Assessment Service for DNR. “In late October, just like the trees above water, the grasses are dying down, and biological activity is declining.”

Oyster beds, a perennial concern of Bay observers, also are better off than they could have been, Michael said. An injection of fresh water likely will be a good thing, because the water in the Bay is saltier than normal due to the dry summer.

The drought during the summer also means a lot less of the water Sandy poured on Maryland is going to make its way to the Bay.

“The ground could absorb a lot, and the reservoirs are low, so we’re seeing a little bit less runoff than we were expecting,” Michael said.

“That said, this is still a tremendous amount of sediment and nutrients coming into the Bay.”

Some of that runoff came from wastewater overflow at Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission facilities in Fort Washington and at the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River. This kind of overflow adds nutrients and bacteria to the watershed.

“There’s so much water coming down that it’s diluted,” Michael said.

How that influx will affect the biology of the Bay likely won’t be known until the summer, he said.

hnunn@gazette.net