Volunteers work to help Eastern Shore recover

As J.C. Barbely looked at Assateague Island in his rearview mirror Saturday night, he was pretty sure his seaside home away from home wouldn't escape Sandy's fury. But Wednesday morning, the assistant manager of the Maryland Park Service's biggest money-maker readied to reopen the park for day use before the week was out.

Bulldozers plugged ragged holes in the dunes with sand washed into the parking lots, inspectors checked buildings, bridges and walkways, and crews gathered debris and counted wild ponies.

"When I got back, it was bad," said Barbely, who reckoned he's helped rebuild the park after storms three times in 39 years. "But now I'm thinking, 'This isn't anything we can't handle.'"

Those words could have emerged from many a mouth as folks on the Delmarva Peninsula helped one another dig out in Sandy's wake.

Since Monday, nearly 2,500 people have signed up on the Facebook page "Sandy Clean-up Help," either seeking assistance or to lend a helping hand.

"I know my friends and I know their hearts," said Colby Nelson, a sergeant on the Ocean City Beach Patrol who started the page. "They're not looking for money or looking to promote their businesses. They just want to help, but they weren't sure how."

Nelson paused to compose herself. "This is overwhelming."

The Facebook page has become a community bulletin board. A man in Long Neck, Del., needs a sump pump. A woman in Philadelphia wants to volunteer if she can hitch a ride. A woman in South Ocean Pines requests a chain saw party to tackle an uprooted pine.

"This is a great idea," wrote Shari Haines Wesmer. "I love the sense of community in my little hometown."

Nelson is the field operations manager and Deserie Lawrence, who runs the Facebook page, coordinates requests and manpower.

At Bayside Jet Drive on 52nd street, where knee-deep water left a mud pie inside the jet ski rental and repair shop, more than a dozen people answered owner Eric Fiori's call for help.

Teachers, pizza shop owners, retired police officers and stay-at-home moms scraped and washed Sandy away. Outside, they wrestled a 1,000-pound section of floating dock back into the bay and gathered up pieces of the shop's boardwalk and put them back in place.

"My wife is big on Facebook and knows Colby," Fiori said. "All these people just showed up. There's no way I could have paid for this help, and it would have taken my wife and parents and I three weeks to do this. Now we'll be open tomorrow."

Fiori said he had prepared for Sandy, moving 300 boats and jet skis from Ocean City to his second location in Berlin.

"It looked like a tornado picked everything up and just dropped it over there," he said. "We did what we could, but it was no match for Sandy. We've been here 13 years and this is the worst we've seen."

Earlier in the day, the Facebook volunteers removed a fallen maple tree in Pittsville and hauled it to the landfill. As they worked on Fiori's shop, a neighbor asked if they might move a pontoon boat washed up in his yard by the storm surge to a grassy lot down the street. Done.

Good deeds were rewarded with good deeds. The woman who got help with the pine tree offered her truck for hauling. A Bethany Blues food truck showed up at the shop with enough pulled pork and baked beans to serve 200 people.

As everyone ate, Blues owners Jim Weisgerberger and Kevin Roberts jumped in a car to round up more hungry people.

"I'm just a grain of sand in Sandy," said Nelson, watching the acts of generosity. "These people are the ones who make it work."

The effects of the storm will linger as Sandy's calling cards still mar the landscape. Vast reflecting pools of stormwater pockmark saturated farm fields. The Pocomoke and Nanticoke rivers are still rising and running as brown as the swamps that frame their banks. Damp pine needles clumped like mini-haystacks cover roads and fill storm drains.

But the Chesapeake Bay seems to have fared better than some had feared, based on dire forecasts.

The bay's main tributary, the Susquehanna River, is nowhere near flood stage, so it is unlikely to flush as much mud, debris and pollution into the Chesapeake as Tropical Storm Lee did in September 2011. The flow at Conowingo Dam is expected to peak at about 155,000 cubic feet per second as the watershed drains.

That projected peak is well below the 775,000 cubic feet per second after Lee, which turned the bay a chocolate color and killed some grass and oyster beds. It's also shy of the 175,000 cubic feet per second that experts say is needed to churn up sediment and nutrients from the bottom of the pool behind the dam.

"Overall, I think the bay made out a little better than we thought was going to happen at the beginning of the week," said Scott Phillips, Chesapeake Bay Program coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Back at Assateague, crews continued to create order from chaos. Some of the men left their homes without heat and lights, with trees down and basements wet to get the popular barrier island recreation site back to normal. The park attracts more than 1.7 million visitors a year and collects $2 million in entry and camping fees.

"Even though it's late in the season, we want to get the park open so that people can see their island is OK and their ponies are OK," said Lt. Mike Riley, the park manager.

As a late-afternoon chill chased away the day's warmth, volunteers finished up at Fiori's shop and toasted their accomplishments with cold beers. Nelson and others walked down the road, scouting for more work.

They settled on Warren's Park, a small pocket of mobile homes hit hard by floodwaters and made plans to return at 9 a.m. Thursday. While they made to-do lists, an older resident grabbed Nelson's hand and addressed the group.

"Hold on, you're in the sunlight," he said. "I can't see your halos."



  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad