REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) — Delaware Gov. Jack Markell on Tuesday eased driving restrictions he imposed in advance of Hurricane Sandy, although several roads remain closed by flooding from the storm.
Markell said it appeared that Sandy did not cause the widespread statewide damage that forecasts had predicted as recently as Monday afternoon. Early storm projections put Delaware in the crosshairs for Sandy's landfall, which occurred a few miles to the north in New Jersey.
"We appear to have escaped the worst consequences of the storm.... I feel fortunate that it wasn't worse here, and that we escaped the brunt of it," Markell said.
The governor gave credit to residents who heeded orders to evacuate low-lying areas and to stay off the roads.
"When people take responsibility for themselves, as they did here, that helps... It's good to be lucky as well."
As officials began assessing flood and wind damage, Markell said that the mandatory closings of businesses in coastal areas that he had ordered to be evacuated will remain in place until officials determine it is safe to return. People who work outside the evacuation areas are allowed to return to work.
Utility crews were working to resume service to thousands of customers left without power. Delmarva Power reported about 43,500 customers in Delaware without power Monday morning, with 40,000 of the affected customers in New Castle County. The Delaware Electric Cooperative, which serves mainly rural areas in central and southern Delaware, reported about 1,500 customers without power.
Meanwhile, officials warned that the high tide cycle moving up the coast and into the Delaware Bay and River throughout the first half of the day Tuesday could cause additional flooding and road closures.
Officials advised motorists that road tolls, which were waived throughout the state to ease the evacuation process, would be reinstated on Interstate 95 at noon, and on state Route 1 at 3 p.m.
The tidal surge from the storm breached oceanside dunes along Route 1 near the bridge over the Indian River Inlet, which links Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach to southern beaches including Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island.
"There's a lot of sand on the roadway," said state Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt. "Residents in the area should not expect Route 1 to be reopened in the short term."
Joe Hopple, a spokesman for the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center, said the National Guard and Delaware State Police had established checkpoints to prevent residents from returning to homes in coastal evacuation areas until local officials determine whether it is safe to return.
"The message from us is, if you have evacuate, stay evacuated from those areas until we tell you it's safe to re-enter," he said.
Jim Grant, a spokesman for New Castle County emergency management officials, said officials were assessing flooding in Augustine Beach south of Port Penn, historic New Castle, and along the Red Clay and White Clay creeks.
John Rago, a spokesman for Wilmington Mayor James Baker, said crews were assessing damage and that Delmarva Power was working to restore power to its customers in the city.
"Our early assessment is that, based on the severity of the forecast, Wilmington came through this reasonably well," Rago said.
Rago said the southeast portion of the city was still under an evacuation order that Baker had issued as the storm approached. The evacuation order covered about 3,000 residents.
Rago said officials would wait to see the effects of a high tide expected around 1 p.m. before deciding whether to life the evacuation order and allow people back into their homes.