A longtime Arlington County Board member shakes up Virginia politics by announcing plans to step away. Uncertainty clouds the future for the chief of one of Maryland's treasured public school systems. And the field of candidates narrows in D.C.'s special elections looming in the spring.
The worst of Sandy has left our region, but the Eastern Shore is still bracing for coastal flooding and assessing storm damage. We get an update from WAMU Coastal Reporter Bryan Russo. We also check in with The Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock to find out how storm damage will affect roadways and commutes in the week ahead.
- Bryan Russo Coastal Reporter, WAMU 88.5; Host, Coastal Connection, 88.3 (Ocean City)
- Bob Thomson Dr. Gridlock, "The Washington Post"
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, he's the public's representative in public radio. NPR's Ombudsman joins us to talk about the role of a national news organization and what it contributes during an emergency.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, Superstorm Sandy has left much of our region shut down. Schools, government offices, metro and bus service are all still closed and people across the region are being advised to stay home if at all possible. But it's the coastal areas that are hardest hit and the water is still rising in some places.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me with updates from the Eastern Shore is Bryan Russo, coastal reporter for WAMU and the host of "Coastal Connection" on 88.3 in Ocean City. Bryan, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. BRYAN RUSSOOh, you're welcome, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIBryan, I mentioned you're down in Ocean City. Have you been able to get out and see some of the damage for yourself?
RUSSOYeah, I got in here a little while ago. I had to retreat last evening when the town had closed all access points in and out of Ocean City. I retreated back home, a few miles off the island in Berlin. I just got back in here.
RUSSOI've been driving around for the past half hour or so. Things are getting back to normal. In the uptown regions, midtown and into the uptown regions, the streets have a lot of debris on them, yes, but water has subsided.
RUSSOThere are some places, you can drive down Coastal Highway. You can look and because it's such a thin island, in some places you can see the water coming up from the bay and into the side streets and you can also, you know, see that in some portions of the ocean side bloc. There's a lot of debris, sand, wooden posts that blew off from the dune system.
RUSSOBut, you know, there's a lot of traffic on the roads right now. People are coming in. They're assessing the damage. I just got a text message from the city saying that they have opened up the entire (word?) Coastal Highway. That includes 17th Street to North Division Street and the Route 50 Bridge which they had closed a day or so ago. So pretty much Ocean City is back up and running. I've even seen some bars and restaurants open for business this morning.
NNAMDIWhat areas seem to have been hardest hit?
RUSSOAh, coastal Delaware took a big thump. I talked to a gentleman who owns several businesses in Dewey Beach. Mostly the bay side restaurants took a heavy hit, a lot of damage, but, you know, nobody got hurt and it was just really structural damage and a lot of flooding.
RUSSOThe Town of Fenwick Island, one of the proverbial, quiet resorts in southern Delaware right near the Maryland Delaware line, about 75 percent of that town is still seeing coastal flooding mostly from the bay side once again. That town is still shut down so you can't even get into Fenwick Island and then the downtown region of Ocean City, much of that is still under water on some of the side streets.
RUSSOBut as the high tide is moving out, what we're seeing now is the waters are starting to recede and things are starting to get, at least a little bit, back to normal.
NNAMDIBeach erosion was a big concern, Bryan. Is it too early to know what kind of damage has been done?
RUSSOIt's pretty substantial. Here in Ocean City, I just walked up on the beach a few minutes ago in an area that I knew was a reasonably small beach. Some of the beaches are very wide and, you know, a couple of football fields long, like downtown on the boardwalk, for instance.
RUSSOI stopped at about 72nd Street, a place where I used to have a beach stand when I was a much younger man and I know that's a very thin beach and you know, the beach is still there a little bit. It's probably only 25 to 50 yards from dune line to ocean, but you can see that the dunes took a huge hit. I mean, there's almost cliffs of sand dunes and the wooden posts that the dune system is built around are showing and usually you can't see that.
RUSSOAnd then, the access points where you would walk from your beach chair to, you know, off street and off of the beach, those are essentially rivers. You can see rivers from storm surges because much of the sand and the vegetation surrounding those student crossings essentially carved out where you could see the heavy flow of the water.
NNAMDIBryan, how do they go about rebuilding dunes? Or are they going to rebuild them?
RUSSOWell, there's a federal program. It's a partnership, I believe, from the State of Maryland and then the town of Ocean City, as well as the federal government. It's called the Beach Replenishment Program. I know there's been a number of politicians have been fighting for that and have fought for that over the years. It's been in place for several decades.
RUSSOThey've pumped tens of millions of dollars into that and basically every couple of years, they come in. They dredge just offshore, pick up any of the sand that has been churned out there just through natural beach erosion and they pump it back on to the beaches. They did that on Fenwick Island just last year.
RUSSOUnfortunately, at the time in which they did it, they angered some tourists because it's a big construction site. But what it does is it builds up these dune systems. It creates a natural levee or sea wall and it's been credited with saving literally billions of dollars' worth of potential property damage in the past several decades with storms like Hurricane Sandy and, of course, Irene last year.
NNAMDISpeaking of property damage, you mentioned that there were bars that were opening today so we know that people are going out, maybe having a drink or two. But to what extent have you noticed people getting out to survey damage to homes and businesses?
RUSSOIt's definitely happening. I talked to a gentleman who owns a surf shop on 8th Street. He's been through many storms and actually yesterday, the waters got so high and things got so bad, he literally walked out of town or waded out of town. He walked eight streets down through knee-deep to waist-deep water, walked out of Route 50 and then another mile or so to a friend's house in west Ocean City.
RUSSOHe came back into town this morning. He took the same walking route and he assessed damage. He said that the waterline in the basement of the surf shop, there's definitely water there, but not as high as he saw, let's say, in 1985 with Hurricane Gloria. So he's feeling very lucky today.
RUSSOI know that there's other business owners who didn't fare quite as well, both on the ocean side and the bay side. And, you know, as I was driving through town this morning, you can see a lot of people wearing the same galoshes that I am and, you know, just taking out debris and, you know, shoveling out water. And I'm sure this is going to take a good week or so to get some of the more heavily-hit establishments back up and running.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Bryan Russo. He's the coastal reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the host of "Coastal Connection" on 88.3 in Ocean City. Bryan, how about power outages?
RUSSOYou know, it is interesting, Kojo, because where I live, just a few miles off the island, we had a generator. We were ready to go. And I know generators leading into this storm were a very hot commodity. They were almost impossible to find. We got very lucky in getting one. Our power only flickered on, you know, several times.
RUSSOThere's a lot of people in midtown Ocean City that are still without power. However, I did speak with a woman who lives on North Division Street, which is downtown Ocean City. They were under a foot of water and she had power this morning so it's kind of random.
RUSSOThe people that do have power, I've heard other suburban communities off the island kept power pretty much the whole way through. I know Delaware is a little bit different of a story. It just depends on the neighborhood. Some places got hit harder than others.
NNAMDIThere were evacuation orders for much of the coastal areas. Did a lot of people evacuate?
RUSSOFor the most part. Last year, there was kind of a big backlash about the massive, grand scale evacuation with Hurricane Irene. A lot of business owners, probably because it was in one of the last weekends of the summer, were upset with, you know, the town potentially, you know, in their eyes pulling the trigger a little early on the evacuation.
RUSSONow this time it was a different story because there's really only 7 to 10,000 people on the island right now, whereas last year with Irene, there was about 250,000. So most people south of 17th Street did evacuate, although, you some hard and long-time locals, you know, really scoffed at the idea of what the threat of the storm was bringing and they stuck around.
RUSSOI did speak with a friend of mine who lives in a mobile home unit in uptown Ocean City. They're right on the water. They were instructed to leave and most people that I talked to that knew that the storm waters were going to rise, they left.
NNAMDIBryan Russo is the coastal reporter for WAMU 88.5 and host of "Coastal Connection" on 88.3 in Ocean City. Bryan, thank you so much for joining us.
RUSSOOh, Kojo, thanks for having me, take care.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Edward Schumacher-Matos. He is the NPR Ombudsman and he is in New York where the effect of Sandy was much more devastating. But first, we'll talk with Bob Thomson, Dr. Gridlock, with the Washington Post who joins us by telephone. Bob Thomson, thank you for joining us.
MR. BOB THOMSONGood to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIBob, what do roads look like out there today?
THOMSONWell, certainly not as bad as they might have been, Kojo. We sure look a lot better than New York does right now. The roads are making a comeback. We still have a lot of roads all across the region that are dealing with downed trees, some flooding, some downed wires, mostly on secondary roads, though. Most of our main commuter routes are in fairly decent shape right now, partly, of course, because so few people have used them today.
NNAMDIIn some ways, this may be a story of things that went right, isn't it?
THOMSONIn some ways, yes, of course, the best solution would be not to have storms in the first place. But in this particular case, I think our governments, local governments, federal governments and schools made very good decisions to shut down well in advance of the worst part of the storm and our transportation agencies also made good decisions, especially the transit agencies likewise shutting down ahead of the worst impact.
NNAMDIBut presumably we won't really know how things are until people get back on the roads for the morning commute tomorrow, right?
THOMSONThat's an excellent point and I'm sure that your listeners will remember what happened to us on the first recovery day after the big blizzards when everybody came back to work and our transportation system was not at all prepared for that. I think we'll be better off this time.
NNAMDIWell, there are still some road closures. What have you heard?
THOMSONWell, lately, meaning the last hour or so, it's been pretty good news. For example, Maryland has lifted that reduced speed limit. Speed limits on interstates and the U.S. routes in Maryland went down to 45 miles an hour out of a caution about the condition of the roads. The Maryland bridges are all back open now.
THOMSONThe Bay Bridge was closed for a good long time and generally throughout the region that's the kind of news we're hearing, despite some continued closures for flooding and a general need for caution particularly on the secondary roads.
NNAMDIWell, let's get to one of your pet peeves. You came in from Silver Spring this morning where the power was out. Traffic signals tend to be an issue in these situations mainly because drivers don't always know what they're supposed to do. What are they supposed to do?
THOMSONWell, let me point out, Kojo, that I had expected to walk into our downtown newsroom with lots of video of drivers behaving badly at darkened intersections. And my peeve right now is that I didn't get a single picture. I didn't experience a single darkened interchange.
NNAMDISo people are using them like they use four-way stop signs?
THOMSONWell they're supposed to. I think that one of the greatest complaints among my readers is that drivers seem to have no clue as to what to do when they get to a darkened intersection. The requirement is that you stop, that you treat it as an all-way stop intersection, but drivers simply don't do that. Some of them seem to think that if they're on the bigger road, they have the right-of-way. That's not true.
THOMSONThey're supposed to stop even if they don't see other cars, even if they don't see pedestrians. And ideally they would have some sort of assurance, some sort of eye contact or maybe an exchange of polite gestures with other drivers before going through. And just like my experience this morning -- my very pleasant experience this morning, there are intersections throughout the region, actually mostly in suburban Virginia and Maryland that have darkened intersections. So drivers do need to be cautious there.
NNAMDIAnd finally speaking of pleasant experiences it's my understand that metro did not see the flooding or the power outages that were feared.
THOMSONThat's right. Again we seem to be in pretty decent shape. The metro has announced that it is going to resume limited service starting at 2:00 pm on the rails and buses. Although I should point out to listeners that the fares will not be limited, only the service. You'll -- from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm you will be paying your regular rush-hour peak fare.
NNAMDIWell, can't have it all I guess. Bob Thomson is Dr. Gridlock with the Washington Post. Bob, thank you so much for joining us. Hope to see you soon.
THOMSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos. You can start calling, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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