Tales from Ocean City: Frank Carlin

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A 50-year emergency management veteran, Frank Carlin was recently honored with a plaque and a congratulatory handshake from Gov. Chris Christie for his service.

He was new on the job when the storm hit on March 6, 1962. Now a meteorologist and weather coordinator for Somers Point, Carlin said it was baptism by fire in the world of emergencies.

“We activated the Emergency Management Office that morning, March 6,” he said. “And we stayed for days. I was working the radios. We had very basic equipment, not the sophisticated equipment they have today.

“We were working in the basement of the Bell Telephone building at 12th Street and Wesley Avenue,” he said. “It’s the highest spot in town, it doesn’t flood there. We had 15 to 20 people working in there around the clock. It was like a bomb shelter. That’s where all the calls came in.

“There was a lot going on, it was a devastating situation,” he said. “There were some people we just couldn’t get to, which was heartbreaking.”

“There were cots all over the place upstairs and the Salvation Army would come in and feed us,” he said. “We had no daylight down there; we had no idea what time it was, we just kept on going. The calls kept coming.”

Disaster Control Director Scott Burman, he said, did a “great job” leading the crew.

“A state of emergency was called, nobody could come in and nobody could leave,” he said. “It was not safe. Everything was getting washed away and there was debris everywhere. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the ocean that angry. When it gets angry, it gets angry. The tidal surge was like a tsunami!

“The wind was howling, it was snowing, raining and terrible outside,” he said. “Everything was flooded. The ocean met the bay almost throughout the whole island.”

A fire on the corner of 10th Street and West Avenue stands out, he said.

“It was a major fire, and the firefighters were having a difficult time getting to it,” he said. “The gas plant was right there, so they cut the gas, turned it off and let the gas out, slowly. They were afraid it would blow up. So then you had people without heat, without electric and without water.

“You had to boil water, it was all contaminated,” he said.

Firefighters, he said, were limited and frustrated.

“They had the 1927 Aherns-Fox truck,” he said. “It was a pumper. I put a hose on my boat and they used that. They were trying to fight fires with my boat. There was a picture of it tied to a meter in front of City Hall, can’t find it anywhere, but it was pretty unusual. That sort of told the story about the storm.”

The National Guard Armory at 18th Street was a “busy place,” he said.

“They had the equipment that could get around,” he said. “The National Guard rescued a lot of people. I was in the Rescue Squad, but the Rescue Squad couldn’t get anywhere. They had to use the tank. The calls I was taking were mainly for fires.”

The legendary Joe Likens made the week interesting, he said.

“He didn’t want to leave his house,” he said. “They got his family out, took his wife and daughters out in the tank and to the high school, but Joe wouldn’t leave.

“They ended up taking him out in handcuffs. We had a big argument with him. He said he was right, he was going to stay and he would be safe. We said otherwise. He said, ‘Well, what if I’m right?’ And we said, ‘Well, what if you’re not.’ We asked him to tell us his next of kin.

“Everything was pretty much gone, save for a house here and there, south of 34th Street, it was just a big mess,” he said. “Civil Defense instituted martial law, they were afraid of looters and there were orders to shoot people if they wouldn’t listen. Shoot to warn them, not kill them, but they were serious.

“People were right on the beach, trying to loot. When the storm calmed down, they got into boats and came up on the beach. They captured a lot of people. No one was allowed down there unless they had a tax bill. Everywhere you looked it was sand and water, damage and devastation.”

Carlin lived at 18th Street and Wesley Avenue.

“My house was OK; the water came to the second step of my porch,” he said. “That was the first time I saw it flooded like that. Now we have too many homes and not enough drainage so we have flooding all the time.”

The new $400 million Ninth Street bridge is a “pretty amazing” sight, but Carlin said he’s not sure if the new elevated bridge and Ninth Street would not flood if another ’62 storm hit Ocean City.

“I’ll believe it when I see it, and hopefully I won’t see it,” he said. “Somers Point floods, too. Mother Nature does what she wants, she’s in charge, and you build roads and dunes and put houses on stilts all you want and when a storm hits, it hits. The barrier islands were meant to protect the mainland, not build homes on.

“When it’s spring time and you have the full moon and the full tides, and you have low pressure areas, you have a problem and you have flooding,” he said. “I’d be a millionaire if I had a nickel for every attempt they’ve made to keep the sand from washing out.

“The ocean gives and the ocean takes away,” he said. “The sand builds up during the summer and in the winter, we lose it all.

“Gov. Christie said, ‘get the hell off the beach’ for a reason,” he said. “There are areas where you just leave if a hurricane is barreling towards you.”

At 75, Carlin could easily retire.

“What would I do? I don’t have enough sense to get out,” he said. “It makes no sense to me to retire. This is what I love to do, predict the weather and help people when everything starts breaking lose.”

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