OCEAN CITY — Final damage estimates of Sunday’s storm were still being calculated Monday, but even as officials tallied the costs, they marveled at the sheer power of “microburst” winds that ripped off a motel roof, sent 350-pound Beach Patrol surf boats cartwheeling down the beach and splintered lifeguard stands.
“We’ve lost some stands before but nothing this catastrophic,” said Beach Patrol Chief Thomas Mullineaux, a lifeguard for more than 40 years.
The city’s Beach Patrol was hit particularly hard: 13 lifeguard stands were destroyed, six Beach Patrol surf boats totaled and six others damaged.
The surf boats cost $9,000 each. Lifeguards pulled them toward the dunes and turned the heavy boats upside down, but the wind flipped them over easily.
“The wind carried one boat end-over-end. I couldn’t believe it,” senior guard Scott Pepe said.
One of the damaged boats was recovered Monday in the back bays of the Strathmere section of Upper Township, where it had floated overnight. Mullineaux said some of the sturdy pine lifeguard stands, each of which weighs more than 100 pounds, were sent rolling and tumbling down the beach for a half-block. Lifeguards found many of the stands splintered or in pieces.
On Monday, members of the Beach Patrol were at work building new stands at the boathouse on 46th Street. The remains of lifeguard stands sat in a pile of broken wood outside the shop.
The city had only three spare stands, so some lifeguards spent Monday guarding from beach chairs under umbrellas. The Beach Patrol plans to have new stands built by week’s end.
The National Weather Service in Mount Holly said the damage was caused when thunderstorms rolled in from the north in Burlington County and headed south down the coast into Ocean City. The moisture-laden storm created a “microburst,” dumping torrential rain and strong winds onto the island.
Anemometers the city posted at the south end of 59th Street measured wind gusts of 66 mph and sustained winds of 40 mph, Finance Director Frank Donato said. The temperature dropped 22 degrees, from 98 to 77, after the storm, Meteorologist Greg Heavener said.
“The microburst has very localized, strong winds,” Heavener said. “It is made up of a precipitation core of rain or hail that becomes too heavy for the storm to maintain. It falls to the ground at a rapid rate. It slams into the ground and spreads out in all directions.”
Heavy winds lifted the roof off the Sun-Aqua motel on the 1400 block of Ocean Avenue and sent it flying more than 50 yards onto the roof of a condo where Regina Purcell and her family, of Freehold, Monmouth County, are staying for the summer.
As the storm approached, Purcell warned her four children to stay away from the windows. Just as they were taking cover, storm-tossed debris smashed through a window in the living room.
“Call it mom’s instinct,” said Mary Purcell, 12. “It was so scary. I was worried for my brother Aidan.”
Jimmy Purcell, 14, said it was surreal to see a neighbor’s patio chair tumble through their living room.
The windshields of several parked cars on Ocean Avenue were smashed by debris. Power lines were down.
The Purcells’ rental home was badly damaged. The family on Monday cleaned up roof insulation that hung like tinsel from the railings and utility wires. They are making plans to stay in a hotel while they decide how they will spend the rest of the summer.
Michael Nowacki’s family, of New Canaan, Conn., had been sitting on the front porch of their Ocean Avenue rental home before they took cover from the storm. Nowacki said he, his girlfriend and her grandchildren ran inside. The children hid in the shower in the bathroom, the only room that has no windows.
Outside, they heard glass shattering and loud thumps as chunks of wood battered the plastic balcony railings. The plastic table and chairs that Nowacki had been sitting in had blown across the porch, and the table landed next door.
“It’s so remarkable that no one got hurt,” Nowacki said.
Janice Uhl, of Downingtown, Pa., said the downpour was so heavy she could not see across Ocean Avenue from her rental home on 14th Street.
“What made us go in was the debris flying by and the glass shattering,” she said. “That’s when we knew it was much more than a regular storm.”
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