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Bay Island Residents Rode Out Isabel Without Regrets -or Severe Damage

By Sofia Kosmetatos
Capital News Service
Friday, Sept. 19, 2003

WASHINGTON - While the wind howled around their house and the tide flooded nearby roads, Smith Island's Eugene Marshall and his wife, Christine, had a spaghetti dinner, watched the premier of "Survivor: Pearl Islands" and went to sleep.

For the Marshalls, whose home on the highest part of Smith Island is just a few feet above the Chesapeake Bay, the night Hurricane Isabel pounded the East Coast was, well, just another night.

They opted not to evacuate, two of about 70 island residents who chose to weather Hurricane Isabel in their homes.

"The lights blinked a little bit, but that was it," said Eugene Marshall, a retired oysterman and crabber. He said his electricity and phone lines remained intact and water flowed uninterrupted from the tap throughout the hurricane.

That's more than his sister-in-law in Severn can say. She had no electricity for about 14 hours because of Isabel, said Marshall. And his brother, who lives on Kent Island, had downed trees in his yard Friday morning.

"I think I came out better than either one of them," said Marshall, a fifth-generation island resident. There was no damage to his home or his boats, and he said the damage to his neighborhood was minor -- just a few overturned trees, branches in the road and flooding of the road.

About 300 people left Smith Island Wednesday to stay with friends or in the safety of shelters in Crisfield and Princess Anne's County.

Eddie and June Evans were not among them.

"I've always stayed," said Eddie Evans, an 11th-generation Smith Islander who lives in Ewell.

Evans spent most of Thursday watching the surf and the rain from his porch swing on the leeward side of his house, which protected him from the worst of the wind and rain.

"Say I'm stupid or unbelievable, but that's what I did," Evans said.

Lulls in the wind and rain allowed Evans to check the lines on his boat. Around 6 p.m., his two sons came over for a crab stew dinner.

Evans said his wind gauge did register an 82 mph wind gust, and he did see the highest tide he's ever seen. But he said riding out the storm on the island was not as bad as people make it out to be -- or as bad as what he saw on the news throughout the day.

The worst of Hurricane Isabel tore through the island from late afternoon through evening. By then a Category 1 hurricane, Isabel brought sustained winds up to 67 mph and storm surges of 4 to 5 feet, according to preliminary data from the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center.

Yvette Sterling of the Somerset County Emergency Management Center said that preliminary reports show the island sustained some damage to power and phone lines, but that no major damage had been reported. As of mid-afternoon Friday, staff was waiting for tide waters to recede from flooded roads so they could conduct a thorough damage assessment.

Across the street from the Marshalls, Brenda Marsh and her husband stayed, too, in part because her mother did not want to leave.

Brenda Marsh spent the day doing chores around the house, and watching the news on television. But the second-generation resident said this storm was different from others that have passed over Smith Island. The wind gusts in this one kept her pacing all night long.

Friday, she was relieved the storm was over, and grateful that the damages she suffered -- flooding, a downed tree in her backyard and six washed-away crab floats -- were minor.

"We could have had it so much worse," said Marsh.


Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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