Thousands of evacuated residents are waiting on Wednesday morning for word on when they will be able to return to their homes in the wake of the worst storm in Ocean City history.
Emergency officials issued a mandatory evacuation order effective 4 p.m Sunday (Oct. 28) as what was then a Category 1 hurricane bore down on the New Jersey coastline.
Ocean City felt the first effects of Hurricane Sandy on Sunday evening, but the massive storm reserved her full fury for the two high tides that fell on Monday (Oct. 29).
The storm arrived on an exceptionally high full-moon tide, and the untimely pairing led to record flooding.
A massive low-pressure system with hurricane-force winds extending 175 miles in either direction and tropical-force winds reaching 550 miles, Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, eight miles north of Ocean City, at 8 p.m. Monday — with powerful northeast winds pushing waves and water over the barrier islands of the Jersey Shore.
By the time Sandy made landfall, the hurricane was characterized as a "post-tropical" system — merged with the winter low-pressure system moving down from Canada that led Sandy to take an unprecedented sharp turn toward New Jersey.
Tide-level readings from the gauge at the Bayside Center at Sixth Street and the bay showed a record-high 7.25 feet at 8 p.m. on Monday (Oct. 29).
The October 2012 storm topped the legendary events of Ocean City history:
- The Dec. 11, 1992 storm was 7.2 feet
- The 1944 hurricane was 6.65 feet
- The morning high tide on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, was 6.49 feet
- The famous March 1962 nor'easter was 6.35 feet
- Hurricane Gloria in 1985 was 5.75 feet
Monday's reading was from the new tide gauge installed on May 3, 2011, at the Bayside Center. It is based on 1988 datum and is measured from the level for an average mid-tide. The attached PDF (read the left column) shows historical data based on the same criteria.
While the record tide levels left Ocean City's downtown streets under three to four feet of water and allowed the ocean to meet the bay on the south end of the island.
Wind gusts up to 70.2 mph were recorded at 59th Street in Ocean City during the height of the storm.
At the same time, the region saw 6 to 12 inches of rain over the course of the storm (6.72 inches in Beesley's Point and 12 inches in Wildwood Crest).
The combination of wind, waves and water caused severe erosion to Ocean City beaches from north to south.
The dunes at Waverly Beach on the north end were knocked flat — just as they were in the recent November 2009 nor'easter. Geotubes installed as part of a recent dune restoration project were the only thing holding back the pounding surf from the exposed streets on the north end.
Dunes at the south end of Ocean City were also eaten by the ocean allowing waves to wash all the way to the bay. Streets in the 40s and 50s show sand from Central Avenue all the way back to West Avenue.
Even the healthiest dunes in the 20s and 30s were diminished by the storm.
Without a protective dune system, beachfront homes on Central Avenue at the south end saw some of the most severe damage — with decks in danger of collapsing, ground-level living spaces filled with water and sand and some doors and windows smashed.
Downtown businesses on Asbury Avenue saw unprecedented flooding — with two feet of salt water filling their shops. Many bayside homes saw similar flooding.
The storm downed trees and utility lines. It filled the streets with sand and debris. It also knocked out two sewerage treatment facilities (one was restored on Tuesday).
In a 1:30 p.m. press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Jay Gillian said the city was still not safe to allow evacuated residents to return. The city said in a 9 p.m. update, that more information will be released at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Ocean City public schools remain closed on Wednesday. Trick-or-treating will be rescheduled.
"The city is aggressively taking every measure possible to ensure public safety once the restrictions on access are removed," officials said in the 9 p.m. update. "The city is hopeful that this will take place at some point on Wednesday."