Despite damage, Mid-Atlantic residents say it could have been worse
Mid-Atlantic residents woke up Sunday morning with a sense of relief that Hurricane Irene had not caused more damage despite overnight warnings of possible dam breaches and storm-caused problems at a nuclear power plant.
"It looks like we were really lucky," said Allen Posey, deputy director of emergency services in Annapolis, Md. Posey said officials took the warnings seriously and made preparations based on their past experience with Hurricane Isabel, which caused significant damage in 2003.
"This is nothing like that, thank goodness," Posey said.
That was the mood at 7:30 a.m. in St. Mary's County, Md., where a bleary-eyed sheriff, Timothy K. Cameron, looked over a four-page list of local roads blocked by trees. Another sheet listed reports of modest injuries and damage.
Still, he concluded, "I guess we were lucky."
This mostly rural Maryland county near the confluence of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay had been on high alert since Hurricane Irene blew in early Saturday evening. At 1:37 a.m., automated "code red alert" calls went to thousands of county residents warning that the St. Mary's Lake Dam was in danger of being breached.
"It came close, but the dam is okay," Cameron said early Sunday.
At nearby Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, Md., a large gust of wind blew a piece of aluminum siding into the main transformer Saturday night, triggering an automatic shutdown of a reactor and causing the plant to declare an "unusual event."
Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, said there was no other significant damage at the Calvert Cliffs plant.
A second reactor at the plant remained online.
"There was never a threat to the public," Sullivan said. "The site remains stable and secure."
Another code red alert was issued in Annapolis early Sunday because authorities feared that the Waterworks Dam might be breached.
"We were worried, but we are doing OK now," city spokeswoman Rhonda Wardlaw said shortly after dawn.
The city, located where the Severn River meets the Chesapeake Bay, had several areas of flooding, more than 30 downed trees, and reports of roof damage.
Still, Wendover said, "we are now focused on cleanup."
Similar reports came from towns and cities along the Mid-Atlantic coast. Ocean City, Md., had been evacuated before the storm. Winds over 60 miles per hour forced police there to halt patrols after midnight. Residents began to return early in the morning, finding many downed trees and properties strewn with debris.
Similar reports came from Dewey Beach, Del., and shore towns in New Jersey.
Philadelphia remained in a state of emergency, its first since 1986. In suburban areas, officials reported flooding and power outages. The Darby Town Center shopping mall parking lot was under water.
In Washington, D.C., residents awoke to slightly higher water levels on the Potomac and a steady stream of rain. The weather didn't stop vendors from setting up tents in Dupont Circle for the weekly farmer's market.
-- Tom Hamburger in Laurel, Md., and Kim Geiger in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Residents of Washington, D.C., inspect a downed tree on Yuma Street. Credit: Paul West / Washington Bureau