Flood waters ravage area
13 inches of rain turns streams into raging rivers
By Ronald MacArthur
The rains came Sunday and left behind a path of destruction in the Seaford area. More than 13 inches of rain fell turning small streams in raging rivers causing numerous road washouts, a dam failure, home and business destruction and evacuations. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner declared a state of emergency in the Seaford area late Monday afternoon. When it was all said and done, almost a dozen roads and at least three bridges were washed out and nearly 40 roads were affected or damaged as the Seaford-Blades area became almost isolated from the rest of Delmarva. According to Darrel Cole, director of public relations for the Delaware Department of Transportation, most of the roads near the Nanticoke River were adversely affected due to the rain. The three bridges washed out include spans at Concord, Craig's Mill and one on Woodland Road. As of presstime on Tuesday, state officials were not able to provide a damage estimate or give a time line as to when repairs will take place. But state highway officials said that the work to repair the damage will be done. "The conditions we are seeing are similar and consistent with what we would see in the aftermath of a hurricane or nor' easter," said DelDOT secretary Carolann Wicks. "This is serious damage and our staff has worked tirelessly, all day Sunday and again today, to go out and assess all the damage to the roadways and bridges so that we know exactly what we're facing. "We're going to find the money to get the work done, and get life back to normal for the residents of western Sussex County," she added.
City staff called into action early
Charles Anderson, director of operations for the city of Seaford, was acting city manager in the absence of Dolores Slatcher who was on vacation. Anderson said that he received a call at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday from Berley Mears, the public works supervisor that flooding was taking place. "I spoke with Mayor Ed Butler and we were touring the area by 6 a.m. The low-lying areas were experiencing extensive flooding and even areas where we have never seen water, were flooding," he said. "Within a half hour we realized we had a major problem on our hands." Anderson then began the process to set up the city's emergency operations center by calling in additional manpower and rerouting non-emergency 911 calls to city hall. Electrical crews and public works crews began working early in the morning. Public works crews cleaned out catch basins, removed stranded vehicles and barricaded impassible roads. Anderson said that around 8:30 a.m., a call was made to the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center for assistance and the county brought its mobile unit to Seaford. Anderson said that there were several homes that received extensive damage on Washington, Elm and Spruce streets. (In addition, at least two houses in Woodland received extensive water damage.) "I know there are a few foundations that have collapsed. The building official is spending the next few days assessing the situation," Anderson said. Anderson said that staff at the city's wastewater treatment plant started their long day on Sunday before 6 a.m. "They struggled with it all day but were able to keep the flow up without any violations," he said. They did have to rent an additional pump. "As you can imagine, the system was inidated with the run off," he added. "We were fortunate. There were no water main breaks and we able to keep potable water to the residents and there were no breeches in the sewer system," Anderson added. "The fire company acted flawlessly, as did the city employees and the state and county gave us whatever help we needed." Mike Mulvaney, the city's building official, said that three homes in the city have structural damage caused by the water - two houses on Washington Street and one house on Spruce Street. He said that each one had part of a wall of the basement collapse. "It was a combination of the water, pressure and the age of the house," he said. "But remarkably, the houses are holding up pretty well everything considered." The owners were forced to move out until repairs can be made. Mulvaney said that nearly everyone in the city who had a basement had some water problems. "Even people who never have water, had some this time," he said.
Fire departments answer the calls
According to Ron Marvel., public relations director for the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department, the department got its first call around 7:30 a.m. for people trapped in a car in a ditch filled with water on Woodpecker Road. It was the beginning of a very long day. "We never stopped. I don't know how many calls we had," he said. The first action by the department was to evacuate residents from the Wilmar Village area behind Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. In addition, volunteers from Blades started the massive job of coordinating the evacuation of three mobile home parks on Brickyard Road - Mobile Gardens, Holly View and Hastings Estates. More than 200 people were evacuated from the mobile home parks. Pumpers from other departments were brought in to pump water off the streets and yards in the neighborhood. "Some of the older people chose to stay, so we had to get water out of there," Marvel said. Volunteers pumped water out of the neighborhood all day. (Residents started returning to their homes to assess the damage late on Monday and Tuesday.)
Calls were made immediately to departments in the area for assistance. "At one time or another every department in Sussex County was lending assistance here," he added. Marvel said that the department's priority was life safety from the beginning of the storm. "We were prepared to evacuate people from houses and get to people who were on life support," he said. "We can't pump out everyone's basement - there are thousands of them." Marvel said that around 1 p.m., the department received a call from Nanticoke Health Services that a decision had been made to evacuate the Life Care at Lofland Park on William's Pond. "The spillway and dam were about to give way and we concurred that an evacuation was in order. We helped them move 110 patients to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital," Marvel said. According to Rene Morris, a hospital spokesperson, DelDOT officials declared the spillway structure stable on Monday afternoon and patients were moved back into the facility on Monday afternoon. Marvel said that the department is now evaluating routes with the number of road closures. "We are considering placing an engine out in the Woodland area because we are not sure how long the roads will be out in that area," he said.
Many businesses are impacted
Several businesses in the Seaford area received extensive damage particularly along the U.S. 13 corridor and at the intersection of Rt. 20 and Craig's Pond Road just outside of Seaford at Chapel Branch. Businesses included Don-Lee Margin and Service Glass at Chapel Branch, Callaway, Farnell and Moore on Stein Highway and The Hobby Stop, Advanced Auto Parts, Block Buster, i.g. Burton, Frederick Ford, Peninsula Chiropractic, Bi-Rite It was impossible to get into the Wal-Mart and Food Lion parking lots on Sunday and into most of the day Monday. Steve Theis, who has his photography business on Williams Pond Park at Beaver Dam, woke up early Sunday morning and never anticipated what would occur the next few hours. He ended up with three feet of water in his basement studio with about $20,000 in loss to furniture and other items. "I'm moving the studio and not putting up with this anymore," he said. He was also hit with flood water two years ago when the dam busted at Hearn's Pond, but it was minor compared to the damage this time around. Theis said that the problem is that the flood gates at the dam at the spillway at Williams Pond were not removed quickly enough. "I will take part of the blame for that. With the forecast, we probably should have removed some early Saturday afternoon," he said. The pond is owned by the Williams Pond Association and members are responsible for the gates. "But in an emergency like this, the state is glad to do it," Theis said. He said that in an extreme condition with a large water flow, removing the boards is a laborious and dangerous situation. State workers worked from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. to remove the boards that serve as gates at the dam to release some of the water in the pond. The gates at Hearn's Pond are hydraulic and don't have to manually be removed. "They have solved the problem at Hearn's Pond but created another problem here. I've spoke with some politicians about it but it's fallen on deaf ears. We need to have our dam replaced. It's old and antiquated," he said. "By 10 a.m. I had five inches of water in the basement and by 2 p.m. I had three feet," he said. "The water was coming in like a river."
Damage in Wilmar Village
One of the hardest hit areas in Seaford was Wilmar Village behind Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Three homes have collapsed basements and several more have water damage. Gas crews have been working almost around the clock since Sunday to restore gas service to the area. According to Berley Mears, the city's supervisor of public works, the gas company cut off service because of several line breaks on Sunday and is replacing all gas lines in the neighborhood.
Woodland has water again
Patty MacArthur, who owns a home in Woodland on Woodland Road, received extensive water damage, but not from the creek behind her home that feeds into the Nanticoke River. "It was like a wall of water coming down the road," she said. "Before I knew it, there was foot of water in the house." Bill Royal, who lives along the banks of the Nanticoke River, had a surprise visit from his son, Jack Royal. His son, who lives in eastern Sussex, became concerned about his father on Sunday, purchased a kayak (just in case he needed it) and took off for Seaford. He had trouble getting to Woodland, so he approached from the Bethel side of the river, parked his vehicle at the ferry slip and kayaked across the river to check on his father.
Water on fields impacts farmers
Cory Whaley, an agriculture agent with the cooperative extension service in Georgetown, said that farmers were hoping for rain, but what they received was not helpful. "We have gone from one extreme to another here," he said. "It looks like the farmers on the west side of Seaford took the Maryland line took the biggest hit, but there is water everywhere." Whaley said that farmers cannot get into their fields because of standing water and wet conditions and that has interrupted wheat harvesting and delayed soybean planting. In addition, he said that existing soybean and corn crops that are under water are in peril. "It depends on how long they are under water. At the very least, we will see reduced yields in low-lying areas," he said. He said that the major concern is the fresh market vegetables that are picked around the first week of July - cucumbers and sweet corn. "If it gets too far along and farmers can't get into the fields to pick, they will not be marketable and we are looking at a lot of lost money. It's pretty close to that now," he said. "We are watching and hoping that things dry out fast. But it doesn't look like the weather will be cooperating." Some farmers in the area were bringing in pumps trying to remove excess water from their fields.
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