An empty Ocean City endures the storm

OCEAN CITY — — Todd Ferrante, an Ocean City business owner and resident, was surveying the storm's damage Sunday morning at about 8 a.m. from the boardwalk, which had some small piles of sand caked to it. The damage he saw, he said, was cosmetic.

"I have to say, Ocean City was lucky again," Ferrante said.

He was looking for signs of wear at the Kite Loft, a store on the boardwalk that is in the first row of businesses along the shore, that his friend owns. The only damage he had to report back to the store's owner was one shingle missing from the roof.

About a foot of rain fell in Ocean City during the storm, police said, and the wind was consistently about 60 miles per hour as the eye of the storm passed within 50 miles of the seaside resort early Sunday.

There were no reported injuries in Ocean City as Hurricane Irene passed through, police said in a statement Sunday morning.

Ocean City property owners, tenants, business owners and employees were allowed back into the town starting at 9 a.m. Sunday, said Mayor Richard W. Meehan. Tourists will be allowed back in starting at noon when the town officially reopens.

The beach will be reopened today but there will be restrictions on going into the surf, which is still experiencing powerful waves, because lifeguards will not be fully staffed.

National Guard units have been released by the town to help in harder hit areas in Southern Maryland and possibly Baltimore, said Police Chief Bernadette DiPino.

As the sun illuminated the beaches and streets in the resort town for the first time since Saturday evening, after a night of torrential rain and winds reaching gusts of 80 miles per hour, little damage was apparent.

Some areas of the town are without power. The wastewater treatment plant is reopening this morning after being shut last night to prevent the sewer system from being damaged by excess rain water.

Only emergency personnel are allowed in town until further notice, police said.

This morning, a firetruck with about five firefighters was stopping every few blocks along the waterfront to turn off alarms that had gone off during the storm.

More than a half dozen alarm systems went off at different times throughout the night at the Stowaway Grand Hotel at the corner of 22nd Street and Baltimore Avenue, said Ray Unger, the hotel's security director.

"We've had Noreasters that have done more damage, said Unger, who lives in Ocean Pines and drove into the resort this morning to check on the empty property. He was planning to do a walk through to look for water damage this morning, but not much else in terms of checking the building for problems.  "We really dodged a bullet."

Wind and water intrusion in the alarm systems can cause alarms to go off, he said. So many alarms we going off, the fire department was forced to ignore shutting them down until this morning, he said.

Cpl. Greg DeGiovanni of the Ocean City Police Department said that water getting into phone lines was also causing false 911 calls to be registered Saturday night.

High winds were expected to continue today. There was little left to blow around in Ocean City, though. Tourists were not walking on the beach or boardwalk, staying in hotels or eating in restaurants. The town even emptied its dumpsters in anticipation of Hurricane Irene.

Only about 7,500 residents live here year-round, but a mandatory evacuation this week moved about 200,000 people from the tourist town, according to a town official.

"Our visitors responded. They left, and they understood, even though on Thursday it was beautiful," said Mayor Richard W. Meehan, who was a rookie member of the City Council during the last evacuation, about 25 years ago for Hurricane Gloria.

The boardwalk was destroyed during that storm, Meehan said. He's confident Irene's damage won't be a repeat of what he saw as a young councilman.

"We've got a lot more protection than in 1985," he said, including sand dunes to protect buildings near the shoreline and a sea wall. "The dunes will be eroded significantly, if not entirely. But then that's what they're supposed to do, protect things to the west. And they can be rebuilt."

Meehan, who declared a state of emergency Thursday, said the town is ready for federal and state funds for cleanup and recovery efforts if necessary. Joe Theobald, director of Ocean City Emergency Management, said all emergency services departments will be fully staffed Sunday.

For the Eastern Shore, a surge of water between four and six feet would mean potential beach erosion, flooding, property damage and floating debris. The storm was expected to come close to Ocean City — the center of Hurricane Irene was expected to pass tonight just off the Ocean City beaches, said Barry Baxter, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.

"People can expect a lot of debris," said Mark Demski, assistant manager of operations at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

Eddie Hopkins, spokesman for MEMA, said it's too early to know the size of the cleanup response on Sunday. Most of the work will be handled locally, unless town and county governments request assistance from neighboring municipalities or the state.

Fifteen-foot waves had been measured Saturday night by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about 20 miles from the Ocean City's shore.

Fred Webster, Worcester County's assistant director of emergency services, said it was fortunate that the height of the surge was expected to hit Ocean City overnight, during low tide, he said.

Elsewhere on the Eastern Shore, Salisbury officials were expecting up to 10 inches of rain and wind gusts as high as 65 miles per hour. Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a news conference that state police had reported seeing a tornado in an unpopulated area of Wicomico County.

Delmarva Power, the major electric utility on the Eastern Shore and in Delaware, reported early Sunday that 93,500 customers were without power.

Four schools in Worcester County were being used as shelters for people from the evacuated regions surrounding Ocean City, said Mike Levy, a spokesman for the Ocean City Police Department. There were more than 400 people in shelters by Saturday evening.

The only place in town that was bustling Saturday was the town's command center on 65th Street. Police, National Guard units, firefighters and town officials scurried in and out of a municipal building all day as the weather worsened.

When Mary Knight, a member of the City Council, wasn't in briefings, she was at home baking for the town's employees.

"It's the nervous energy," said Knight, who'd already baked seven dozen cookies by the time she went running out into the storm around 4 p.m. "I'd be back with more, but I've run out of sugar."

Baltimore Sun reporter Erik Maza contributed to this article.