Storm surge fails; residents quick to reclaim Fells Point, Annapolis

Rob and Paula Notrica were married Sunday and had a reception in Fells Point.
Rob and Paula Notrica were married Sunday and had a reception in Fells Point. (Peter Hermann, Baltimore Sun)

The storm surge didn't come, so Rob and Paula Notrica went ahead with their wedding reception Sunday.

It didn't matter that guests dressed in their finest had to skirt sandbags to get into the Fells Point restaurant. It didn't matter that relatives had begged them to postpone as dire warnings mounted. It didn't even matter that the frantic week before the nuptials had been accompanied by an earthquake.

"We almost had a disaster, but it turned out perfect," said 33-year-old Paula Notrica, a psychiatric therapist who lives in Pikesville.

The feared rush of water that nearly drowned Fells Point during Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003 never arrived — not here nor anywhere else in Maryland — and the Notricas joined residents, tourists and even soccer fans quickly reclaiming the damp streets and outdoor tables at taverns and restaurants.

"It was rain, but not too bad," said Sean O'Donnell, who works as a bartender but at noon was taking a break at a table near the water. "But I'm glad we were prepared. After what happened with Isabel, we did the right thing."

Terry Becker, manager of Kooper's Tavern on Thames Street, grabbed a framed montage of pictures that shows the neighborhood under water eight years ago. The dire warnings from city, state and national leaders about the storm were not overblown, he said, and most likely helped limit damage and allowed him and others to open up on time on Sunday.

"By 7:30 in the morning, we had our outdoor tables," Becker said. "The soccer fans were next door at 6:30. The city was prepared. The cars were gone from here. They gave out free sandbags. But we're always swamped. This is all regulars in here. A blizzard, tornado or hurricane can't keep them away."

At City Dock in downtown Annapolis, traffic was heavy and visitors crowded the sidewalks to see what has become the traditional storm-surge flooding of City Dock.

But just as happened in Fells Point, Irene left without leaving much of a trace.

"We were expecting a doozy, what with all they were saying," said Ryan Lamy, owner of Pip's Dock Street Dogs, a hot dog shop near the water. "What we got was a whole lot of nothing."

Lamy rented a truck Saturday, as did a number of businesses at City Dock, and removed the contents of his shop. He was moving back in Sunday afternoon and, since he had electricity, he expected to be open later in the day.

"I think the media kind of ran with it, but we'd figured we'd be safe," he said.

Cassandra Kovac, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy who was out enjoying the post-storm sunshine and breeze with a classmate, said the school had them sandbag the doors and breezeways of buildings, many of which were severely damaged by Isabel.

"We expected a lot worse than this," she said. "But we started to be able to tell, from all our weather-watching, that it wasn't going to be as bad as everyone thought."

By 12:30 p.m. Sunday, the people and the cars — banned during the storm — had returned to Baltimore's Fells Point. Parking, as usual, was difficult to find. People grabbed outdoor seats and dined, even if it was a bit blustery and spitting rain. By 3 p.m., the sun finally returned.

About the only reminders of the storm were the leftover sandbags, some stacked in medians and on sidewalks, others still protecting front doors of homes along Shakespeare. The streets were damp. The air humid.

And still the wedding guests came.

Only a small number, including one in the wedding party, missed the ceremony, and those who did come to Tapas Adela on Broadway could not stop talking about the couple's luck. Not only was the restaurant spared floodwaters, it didn't lose power.

The Notricas had planned their wedding, held at a private residence in Northwest Baltimore, back in February. They didn't start getting nervous until the earthquake hit, just as government officials from the White House to Baltimore's City Hall were warning about a killer storm approaching.

"I thought it was going to be like every time," said 40-year-old Rob Notrica, who works in information technology. "They build it up, and nothing happens."

The storm did happen, but the surge didn't — and only, according to weather forecasters, because the wind blew the water down the Chesapeake Bay instead of up, the opposite of what happened in Isabel.

The wedding planner, Alex Kolego II of Event To Remember Entertainers, said he drove to Fells Point early Sunday and got on the phone with the nervous bride to assure her that Fells Point was still above water.

"As they say, rain brings good luck," Kolego said. "Well, this couple got a hurricane."