Area spared worst of storm
Floodwaters close highways in Blades & Woodland

By Ronald MacArthur

By the time Hurricane Isabel rushed by the Western Sussex area Thursday and Friday, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Even so, the 50-65 mile per hour winds, heavy rain, and eventual storm surge on the Nanticoke River left its mark. Most of the area was with electricity from eight to 48 hours. The surge pushed a wall of water five to seven feet above the high tide mark on Friday morning. Low-lying areas along the Nanticoke were flooded on Friday morning with the small hamlet of Woodland covered with as much as 28 inches of river water. The Blades Causeway was closed most of the day Friday as the banks of the Nanticoke overflowed into the town. Hundreds of trees and limbs were downed by the gusts.

City of Seaford personnel are in the process of cleaning the city streets of the many piles of limbs, leaves, and tree trunks. According to Dolores Slatcher, city manager, residents are not permitted to take the debris to the city’s leaf and limb landfill. It was closed as soon as the storm started last week. “The city will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) for the cost of the disposal of the debris at another site,” she added. “We will utilize that funding and not fill up our own leaf and limb landfill.” City crews will remove the debris and have a contractor dispose of or recycle the material. Representatives from FEMA and the Delaware Emergency Management Administration (DEMA) toured the Seaford area on Saturday to survey the damage. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner was in Seaford meeting with city and county officials on Friday not long after the storm ended. Slatcher is estimating that the city’s financial loss in electrical infrastructure and overtime will exceed $75,000. “Most of the damage was the loss of wires and poles, but it could have been a lot worse,” Slatcher said. During the storm, about three-fourths of the city’s electrical customers were without power. Electric crews were hampered by high winds and heavy rain on Thursday night and were eventually called back in after power was restored to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital. Slatcher said that crews from Delaware Electric Co-operative and Conectiv were also called back in.
Crews were back on the streets early Friday morning and worked until 2 a.m. on Saturday. They took a break and were back in their trucks working all day Saturday. According to Slatcher, the final area in Seaford city limits to get power restored took place around 4 p.m. on Saturday. Slatcher had nothing but praise for the city staff, some who stayed at city hall all night Thursday to man the phones. “And we really need to thank the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department and the Ladies Auxiliary. They were instrumental in this whole process,” she said. Members of the fire department helped with tree cutting and the auxiliary provided meals for workers. Slatcher said that the only problem encountered during the storm was the city’s communication system. The city’s utility division (all of the electrical trucks, administration vehicles, and public works vehicles) was taken off the state’s 800-mega-watt system as soon as the storm started. Although the police and fire departments remained on the system, the utility division was taken off the system by the state to make room on the system for statewide emergency services. “We did not have radio contact so we relied on cell phones,” she said. “This situation has to be addressed with the state. It may come down to us investing in a better back-up radio system.”

Residents of Woodland awoke on Friday morning to see the banks of the Nanticoke River rising rapidly. By 8 a.m., the banks had overflowed to close Woodland Road and Woodland Ferry Road. The water rose as much as seven feet over flood stage before starting to recede Friday afternoon. Residents were worried that the combination of high tide (around 11:45 a.m. on Friday) and southerly winds would push the water even higher. Luckily for most residents, the floodwaters didn’t rise high enough to cause serious damage. Residents walked around the small hamlet in more than two feet of river water covering the roads. Jack Knowles, local historian who has lived in the Woodland area his entire life, said it was the worst flooding he had seen. Another life-long Woodland resident agreed. “It really reminds me of Hurricane Hazel in 1954,” said Howard Dege. By Saturday morning, all that remained of the Flood of ’03 were a few puddles and debris on the roadways and in residents’ yards.

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