The March Storm of 1962
Aerial of Ocean City, Maryland near 94th Street in March of 1962
Photograph courtesy of Bobby Jester
When we arrived home from the workday on the 6th, we knew something was not right weather wise because most of the streets in the canal area of the development had water standing on them. There was a driving rain from the northeast. This was not uncommon during a northeast storm because most of the homes on our street were built on filled land that had once been marsh. But it was higher then was normal. Our home however was on a natural knoll and was higher in elevation. We were not concerned. This was the sixth of March.
We had a normal dinner and were listening to the evening news when I was notified by the fire department that men were being asked to stand by at the station house on Dorchester Street in Ocean City. We discussed me leaving the family to respond and decided that whatever I did, I should first go and lay in some food supplies. Upon driving down to the intersection of Rumgate Rd. and New Quay Rd. I was startled to see that the water had risen two feet in that area since coming home. The decision had been made for me and I returned home and drove our new Chevrolet Impala up onto planks supported by cinder blocks. I also untied our boat at the dock which was under water and pulled it closer to the house in the event we would need it in the night. The wind had really begun to blow harder and just before dark we could see white waves splashing against the homes that were further to the east of us and closer to the bay. Just before darkness arrived we looked down New Quay Street and at the home of the Wise family, their automobile was rocking back and forth as waves washed against it. We had enough food; the house was still well above the water line, and it was now dark. We made the decision to stay put. Actually we had no choice.
Sue and I did not go to bed. The roar of the Ocean surf began to sound as if it was very close to us. The winds escalated during the night hours. I would venture outside to check on the boat which was now positioned within a few feet of the house. The water was at least six feet above the normal tide level.
Because we were on high land our property began to collect debris being washed across the bay from Ocean City. Propane tanks that had broken loose and were hissing gas as well many small apartment size refrigerators and many pieces of lumber began to collect in our back and side yards. The winds were now howling. Our home (10344 New Quay Rd.) was one of the very few on the canals that tidal waters did not reach.
By morning the winds had subsided; with tidal waters slowly receding. We observed a coast guard launch with volunteer firemen aboard taking people out of their houses at window sill level to the east of us. We had not lost electricity and the wind was not blowing nearly as hard. Later a USCG boat came down our street. The fireman on the boat was my truck # 9 Lieutenant, David Lankford. [He would later become the Fire Marshall of Ocean City.] We told them that we wished to remain in our home.
Clean up after the storm on 4th Street looking towards the boardwalk
Photograph courtesy of Beryl & Bill Dryden
By the following day, the water had receded to almost normal and I drove into town to see if I was needed by the fire department. I remember in particular that there was a sand dune in the middle of Baltimore Avenue in front of the Methodist Church at 4th Street that had to have been at least 15 feet tall, created by the ocean washing sand down 4th street. Fire Company Chief Harmon assigned me to a Maryland State Trooper to guard against looting in the Snug Harbor area south of Ocean City because I knew many of the legitimate owners that might be returning to salvage belongings from their homes. The development was completely black as there was no electricity. Later the trooper was called away. I was relieved at midnight. Forty years later a member of the National Guard, which had been ordered in to guard against looting, confided to me that they helped themselves to the inventory in the County Ocean City dispensary on Talbot St.
Maryland Governor Millard Tawes arranged for large numbers of caterpillar tractors to be brought to Ocean City to begin the clean up. They began pushing sand from the interior of the island to the east. There was no boardwalk; it’s ruined sections were being trucked to third street and stacked in huge piles. The bull dozers pushed sand up the side streets and on to the beach. State convicts were put to work stacking and burning piles of wooden debris many stories high on the ball fields at 3rd and 4th street. The fires would burn for weeks.
By June of 1962, a new boardwalk had been built; destroyed properties hauled away, and Ocean City was ready for business by Memorial Day. Unfortunately for many property owners however, the value of land in the town had plunged in value. This set the stage for large developers with access to wealth and armed with a new development concept called condominium to make their appearance. As a result of the dramatic increase in the property tax base Worcester County would become a very wealthy Maryland county. For bad or good, the appearance and demeanor of Ocean City would change forever.
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