1962 'Storm of the Century'

The 1962 storm was one of the 20th century's worst. It struck from the Carolinas to New England. Ocean City was hit hard. And it exactled its toll: 40 people were killed on the East Coast; more than 1,000 people were injured; hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in rebuilding; and beachfront sands were swept away.

Strong winds brought heavy rain and flooding. The flooding was made worse by the tides linked to the moon's phase during the storm.

The winds started howling on Sunday, March 4. With them came gusty showers. Winds from the northeast rolled along a 600-mile stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, piling up water and pushing it onto shore at Ocean City. The storm continued to worsen.

The strong winds didn't bring just water; they also blew sand off the beach and snapped power lines. The fallen power lines caused a few house fires, even as the roads around the houses flooded. A major road, Beach Highway, was completely submerged. Firefighters were unable to reach at least two of the house fires due to flooded roads.

The water got even deeper. On March 6 a new moon caused tides to grow. High water reached two feet above normal levels.

The Coast Guard, state police and National Guard were soon on the scene. Ocean City's winter population of 1,500 was cut by two-thirds, as most people fled in an evacuation.

To those who stayed behind, the Coast Guard and Red Cross gave sandwiches and coffee. One restaurant, which was built on higher ground, sold ham and cheese sandwiches for 60 cents each. The Coast Guard used Ocean City Elementary School as its temporary headquarters for both working and sleeping.

The storm rendered the town -- famous for its oceanfront and boardwalk -- unrecognizable.

The oceanfront disappeared under the severe flooding and steep waves. The water carried sand from the beach. The sand blanketed the town, burying everything from cars to houses. The boardwalk was lifted off of its pilings. Some sizable sections of it slammed into hotels and other buildings both on and off the beach, causing major damage. The cost of rebuilding it was $470,000. In some cases, 15 feet of sand from underneath beachfront homes was washed away, and Bethany Beach, Del., lost 150 feet of coast line.

By Thursday, the waters had receded. The State Roads Commission brought in about 150 pieces of equipment to Ocean City to start the cleanup.

The first task was clearing sand. It was shoveled out of the houses not destroyed by the storm. The sand was bulldozed back toward the beach. Some holes in the sand on the beach measured eight feet deep.

Prisoners from the Poplar Hill Labor Camp in Quantico, Md., helped with the cleanup. They were paid 20 cents a day and received time off their sentences for good behavior.

Information from Sun archives