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Ocean City officials say town has shrugged off Sandy

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Local,DC,Maryland,Alan Blinder,Environment,Hurricane Sandy

OCEAN CITY, Md. -- When Hurricane Sandy was finished with this town in October, nearly 100 feet of a storied fishing pier had been severely splintered and fractured and lost to the sea.

But nearly seven months after a storm that was unlike any to batter Ocean City since the 1980s, the pier is 489 feet long again, and the town that hosts millions of visitors every summer says it is open for business.

"Sandy was an extremely bad storm, but we didn't suffer the same type of damage that some of our neighbors to the north did," said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, who estimated that the local government spent as much as $1.4 million on storm-related costs. "But along the oceanfront, as a result of our beach protection project that we have out there, we were basically spared any significant damage."

Coming attractions
» June 8-9: Ocean City Air Show
» June 20-23: Dew Tour
» Sundays until Labor Day: Laser shows

The town's beach season opened early Saturday, with 140 lifeguards taking to the sand as part of an annual government expansion that more than doubles the size of the municipal workforce.

And despite temperatures that occasionally made Memorial Day weekend feel like Thanksgiving, visitors streamed into town, many of them bundled up and roaming in sweatshirts instead of swimsuits as persistent winds swept across the beach.

"Compared to last Memorial Day -- when it was unseasonably hot -- this is frigid," Drew Haugh, who had just begun his 35th summer renting chairs to beachgoers, said Saturday. "I've seen numerous people come out and, within 20 minutes, get up and leave."

By Sunday, the mercury had climbed to the high 60s and stayed that way into Monday, sending thousands to the shoreline.

Clif Noble said he did not hesitate to make the nearly six-hour drive from his home in Buckingham, Va., about 60 miles west of Richmond.

And he wasn't disappointed by what he found as he strolled the boardwalk.

"It looks fine to me," Noble said. "It's up and running and looks good. I'm excited to be here."

Local hoteliers said that they had seen no sign of Sandy diminishing Ocean City's closely guarded status as a seaside retreat for vacationers of varying degrees of wealth.

"We're pretty full," said Russell Laurenzano, a manager of the Knights Inn and a 14-year veteran of Ocean City summers. "It's going to be hard to accommodate more people."

But 2013 has been more sluggish than usual, a trend that residents attributed to the unusually cool temperatures that chilled the mid-Atlantic throughout the spring.

Meehan said he wasn't worried about a slowdown after two years of significant storms: Sandy and, in 2011, Irene.

"There are so many other things to do in Ocean City besides sit on the beach," Meehan said. "We're expecting a big summer."

AAA has forecast that Maryland may pick up new visitors this year as the Jersey Shore continues to rebuild.

Haugh said he suspected the town's hospitality industry wouldn't complain.

"They certainly hope that their bad luck is our good luck," he said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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