CRISFIELD — On Maryland’s jagged coastline, hurricane-riled waves destroyed an iconic pier and floodwaters forced caskets from graves in a town famed for crabbing. In the mountainous western edges, 2 feet of snow snapped power lines, downed trees and left tractor-trailers jackknifed along an interstate.
The much-feared meet-up between Hurricane Sandy and a powerful wintry front had residents on opposite sides of the state dealing with very different types of cleanup on Tuesday. In terms of sheer destruction, other states fared worse on a day when the superstorm plagued a large swath of the eastern U.S. But in Maryland the dueling disasters strained emergency resources and illustrated extremes in weather that rarely coincide.
Steve Zubrick, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said it’s unusual to see a tropical storm and a blizzard on the same map at the same time — much less in the same state.
“There’s some meteorologists whose dream of the ‘perfect storm’ is a hurricane going into an Arctic high-pressure system and creating a huge snowstorm,” said Zubrick of the service’s Baltimore-Washington forecast office in Sterling, Va. “On the map (Monday), you had the hurricane symbol on the map and you could see the blizzard warnings out in the west. They were very close to each other, relatively speaking. Just to see that on one map is pretty impressive. I probably won’t see that again.”
Hundreds of people were displaced from their homes by floodwaters in the resort town of Ocean City and in Crisfield, a community known as “the crab capital of the world.” In westernmost Garrett County, nearly three-quarters of the residents lost power because of the blizzard and a mountainous stretch of highway was closed for hours.
Mark Merritt, a former deputy chief of staff at FEMA, said Sandy’s aftermath presented unique logistical difficulties, in part because the storm itself was so vast. Maryland is competing for resources, including out-of-state utility line crews, with states up and down the Eastern seaboard.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge because of the variety,” said Merritt, the president of Witt Associates, a public safety and crisis management consulting firm. “You’ve got coastal regions; you’ve got urban regions; you’ve got mountainous rural regions. You’ve got a little bit of everything in Maryland.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley said the state’s emergency preparedness drills have built in more complex scenarios, including the mix of weather brought by Sandy.
“Whenever we do our scenarios and our drills and our trainings — and we do a lot more of that than we ever have — there’s typically built into the scenarios these sorts of curveballs and complicating factors, because that’s the way real life is,” O’Malley said Tuesday.
‘We’ve got a heck of a mess’
In Crisfield, residents said they hadn’t seen flooding this bad since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. On Cove Street, water was covering lawns and splashing against the front steps of houses. One home decorated for Halloween had water soaking a small ghost and Frankenstein decorations. Across the street, a rowboat was tied up but floating in the yard.
At a cemetery, two caskets — one silver and the other bronze — had been forced out of their graves, their sides visible above the grass. The cement slabs that covered the graves were dislodged.
About an inch of water crept into the home of Harold “Doc” Sterling, who lost power, heat and telephone service. He decided to leave with the National Guard around 1 p.m. A Guardsman held Sterling’s Bible as he climbed a ladder into a waiting truck with about 10 others.
In Ocean City, public works crews were on the streets Tuesday morning doing cleanup work. An iconic fishing pier in the city’s downtown was destroyed.
Across the state, with 2 feet of snow on the ground and more on the way, residents were finding their reputation for wintertime hardiness tested. Mike Dreisbach, co-owner of Savage River Lodge near Frostburg, was out removing trees to restore access between the rustic retreat and a main road.
“We’ve got a heck of a mess,” he said. “I’ve been cutting since 2 o’clock this morning to get to the hard road.”
Intermittent closures have taken place along a stretch of Interstate 68 that crosses into West Virginia since Monday night.
After several westbound tractor-trailers jackknifed Monday night, Maryland State Police Sgt. Brian Broadwater said about 200 vehicles backed up. Travelers were turned around or detoured onto two-lane state highways that were also treacherous, prompting many to check into motels.
“Most of us grew up around this. We can deal with the snow. But when it dumps on you like this, it makes it a little difficult to get things done,” Broadwater said.
On Tuesday afternoon, plows and heavy-duty towing vehicles worked to clear a blockage in the eastbound lanes caused when seven trucks got stuck in snow near the West Virginia-Maryland state line.
“I love my job, but this storm is miserable,” said 32-year-old Charles Lewis, who works for one of the towing companies. “We were not expecting this much snow.”
In densely populated central Maryland, two people were killed and hundreds of thousands of residents lost power. While many residents are accustomed to lengthy power outages during summer thunderstorms — in late June, a fast-moving storm left some in the dark for more than a week — the cold air that accompanied Sandy created additional headaches.
“Now, it’s the cold people have to worry about,” said John Mueller of Pasadena, whose daughter and 84-year-old mother both lost power. “With the temperatures dropping, this is terrible.”
In Pasadena, Donald Cannata Sr., a 74-year-old retired engineer, was killed when a tree fell on his one-story brick ranch-style house late Monday. A woman was also killed in a head-on collision in Germantown that state officials said was weather-related.
Floodwaters also covered the City Dock in Annapolis, the low-lying state capital, where resident Michael Blade said the mix of weather elements was unnerving.
“Oh my God, you’ve got snow on one side of the state and flooding here,” Blade said. “It’s just odd.”