Fifteen years ago this month, Isabel came to visit.
The hurricane, having been tracked as a major storm for days, took a turn in our direction. By the time she slammed into mid-Atlantic coastline on September 18, everybody around my neck of the woods was either preparing or scoffing.
Most were doing a little of both.
Isabel first arrived that Thursday afternoon with some wind and rain. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge closed just before 3 p.m., when the wind reached 50 mph. It was the first time the bridge ever closed due to the weather.
The Route 50 bridge over Kent Narrows soon followed suit. The old Rt.18 drawbridge was the only way on and off Kent Island. It closed at 11:30 pm just as the worst of the rain and winds rolled in.
It was in the early morning hours of Friday that a calm, predatory vibe filled the quiet air. Even the wind seemed to take, and hold, a breath.
Then, to put something of a spin on the old saying, the creek rose.
Over about an hour and a half, a record-breaking tidal surge crested. Hundreds of boats were torn from their moorings or lifted off their blocks in the yard.
“I knew a big surge was coming”, says Grasonville charter boat captain Maurice Dashiell, a Rock Hall native and professional fisherman since 1971.
“I just didn’t expect anything that big.”
Preparing for the bad weather headed our way, Capt. Dashiell had hauled his 40’ wooden fishing boat the Mary C. out of the water on Thursday morning. He wondered if the boat was blocked high enough, but the lift had already moved on to other business.
Dashiell dismissed his fleeting concerns. He left south Kent Narrows and drove to his home on Winchester Creek to wait the storm out.
“At midnight the water was halfway up my yard,” he says. “At three in the morning you could actually watch it moving inland like Jaws. Da-dun, da-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun…Wasn’t anything gradual about it. When the dog wanted to go out at six, she stopped at the door because the water was right there.
“My first mate called to tell me my boat had floated loose. I couldn’t get out so he came and got me. We saw her from the (Kent Narrows) drawbridge and walked down from there. We forgot where the ditch was and ended up swimming a few feet.
“Her bottom was hitting ground. We tried to push her off but she wouldn’t budge. I climbed on board, started her up, and threw her into gear. I could feel the scag scraping bottom, but I headed for a little runoff of water and slid into the ditch by the side of the road. I knew I had to go for it. I felt a hard bump underneath when I crossed the road, but just kept going. I went through the parking lot at Fisherman’s Crab Deck and into their pond.”
“There was a little drain between there and the restaurant. That was close. I got to the Narrows where the wind was howling and the tide rolling, and then out to Chester River. Worried about that hard bump, I stuck close to shore even though she never took on water. Eventually I anchored out in the creek behind my house. Now I always say next time I’ll just do that from the start.
“I’ve been on the water most of my life,” says Dashiell, “and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen more wind and I’ve seen more rain, but I’ve never seen more water.”
Around 10 a.m. a sailboat in Well’s Cove broke loose and drifted into a power line, sending sparks flying and shutting down power to the whole area.
By early afternoon the water began to recede. From my vantage point it seemed to go out as quickly as it came in, about 30 minutes.
On the Kent Island side of Kent Narrows, there was some damage in the marina and boatyards near Ferry Point, several watermen were rescued from their boats when the water came up too fast for them to abandon ship, and one man was rescued from the Kent Island Yacht Club, which sat like an island on the southwestern quarter throughout the flooding.
Northeastern Kent Narrows faired relatively well. Annie’s Paramount Steak & Seafood House and Red Eye’s Dock Bar were virtually unharmed. Harris Crab House, though coming inches away from interior flooding, was spared, but according to co-owner Art Oertel, the Harris Seafood processing plant had seven and a half feet of water inside.
Across Route 50 to the south, six weeks after reopening from a fire, Fisherman’s Crab Deck’s already compromised seasonal business was cut short due to the extensive destruction caused by the winds and tide.
The original Fisherman’s Inn was spared interior flooding and survived mostly unscathed. Water never got into The Narrows Restaurant either, but their parking lots were littered with boats of every shape and size. The Jetty was so damaged, the owners wondered out loud whether they’d ever be able to open again.
Businesses and residents quickly started recovery work. Communities bound together and though not necessarily to the satisfaction of all parties concerned, state and federal response was effective. Volunteer organizations were the backbone of the relief effort.
The power started to come back on late Friday afternoon.
It took months, in some cases even years, but most of Kent Narrows, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland and the country recovered in Isabel’s aftermath.
Hopefully, lessons were learned to deal with the next disaster that may loom.
May we never have to put those lessons into effect.
Photos Courtesy of Shelby Cunningham, Mary Lee Brown & NASA
Books by Brent Lewis are available on Amazon.com
Remembering Kent Island: Stories from the Chesapeake and A History of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department published by Arcadia Publishing & The History Press: