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Del. officials relieved after avoiding direct hit

Tuesday - 10/30/2012, 10:15pm  ET

Associated Press

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. - Delaware officials and residents expressed relief Tuesday that the state once again dodged a direct hit from a hurricane and that damage from superstorm Sandy was less than feared.

While some southern coastal areas remained underwater, officials said the damage was far less than expected, given that early forecasts had Sandy making landfall in Delaware. No deaths or injuries were reported.

"Overall, we certainly fared better than what forecasts had predicted, ... and we certainly fared better than some surrounding states," Gov. Jack Markell.

The center of the storm came ashore Monday evening near Atlantic City, N.J., and a tidal surge sent water into the streets of two northern towns. The storm devastated parts of the Jersey shore, led to six deaths in that neighboring state and left more than 2 million without power.

Markell made his comments after surveying storm damage along the Delaware coast, including dune breaches north of the Indian River Inlet bridge that left a stretch of state Route 1, the major north-south coastal highway, covered in sand.

The northern approach road to the old bridge over the inlet was destroyed by waves after the dunes were breached. State Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt said officials will have to reassess plans by the contractor demolishing the old bridge to utilize the old approach road.

"It's started the work of the demolition, that's for sure," Bhatt said as he stood amid the rubble.

Officials said the resort towns of Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, south of the Indian River inlet, appeared to be among the hardest-hit areas. While officials had no damage estimates Tuesday, floodwaters surrounded hundreds of homes in Bethany and Fenwick.

Farther north, in Dewey Beach, flooding from Rehoboth Bay left some streets still under water, but the ocean dunes survived mostly intact.

"Thank God the dunes held," said Jim Laird, a former town commissioner who lives on a street that remained flooded Tuesday and sustained minor damage to his home.

"You take the good days with the bad days," said Laird, who maintained his sense of humor. "If you want to live near the water, this is it."

Markell lifted the state of emergency for New Castle and Kent counties at 5 p.m. Tuesday but kept the order in place for Sussex County because of flooding. Markell also lifted an official driving warning but advised motorists to remain cautious because of closed and flooded roads.

Meanwhile, only a handful of people remained at shelters, and state and local government offices prepared to reopen Wednesday.

Glenn Marshall, a spokesman for the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center, said the fact that the storm picked up speed shortly before making landfall helped minimize the damage in Delaware.

"We really got lucky in the way the thing picked up speed and jumped through us," said Marshall, who said the storm doubled its speed from 14 mph to 28 mph as it neared Delaware, which proved to be a stroke of luck.

"We thought we were actually going to get worse than the original projections," Marshall said. "We thought we were really going to get smoked."

Instead, Delaware continued its streak of dodging a direct hit from a hurricane.

"We've been telling people for years that one of these days our luck might run out," said Sussex County spokesman Chip Guy. "It's just a matter of when the right one is going to set its sights on us and knock us out."

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)