Sandy swamps Bennett’s Creek

Published 9:53 pm Monday, October 29, 2012

Harbor Side Restaurant was marooned by the rising waters of the Nansemond River as the tide came in on Sunday morning. High tides on Sunday night and Monday morning were even worse, and Monday’s tide filled the restaurant with about two feet of muddy water, according to its owners, who said they hope to be able to open the business again in a month or so. Hurricane Sandy brought an average of about 3.75 inches of rain and winds gusting to 38 mph in Suffolk. Its greatest effect here was tidal flooding.

The scene at Harbor Side Marina & Restaurant, down at the end of Ferry Road in Bennett’s Creek, was dismally familiar Monday for the popular eatery’s co-owner.

“I’d say this one is comparable to Irene,” Cullen Wallace said of Hurricane Sandy, equating it with 2011’s hurricane, as water lapped at the walls.

Hours before Sandy’s official landfall was expected, making out the small parking lot and other features outside the building was no easy task.

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Railings, a disabled parking sign, shrubs and clumps of ornamental grass poking above the waterline gave some indication of where they lay.

About 11 a.m., with high tide minutes away and moderate rain falling steadily, Wallace reported a little over two feet of water in the dining room.

The worst thing, he said, is “mainly just the mud and everything that gets inside the building. Salt water damages everything.”

With a helper, the restaurateur was hustling to ferry maintenance equipment from a storage shed beside and a few feet above the restaurant to higher ground.

Faces set against the wind and rain, they were loading the gear into the back of a pickup, moving it up hill and returning for more. “Typically it does come in here,” Wallace said of the water and the shed.

The restaurant was open for its normal hours Saturday and closed Sunday “to get all the perishables out,” Wallace added.

“I’m thinking a month and we’ll be open again. We’re getting better” at managing floods, he said. “We’ve made some improvisations.”

Around the corner, on Knotts Neck Road, Lancaster Farms Nursery was weathering the storm better, though the nursery was closed.

“All of our plants seem to be faring pretty well, so we’re pretty good,” company President Chris Brown said.

“Generally speaking, if the wind blows above 50 miles per hour sustained, we would have to lay some plants down. Hopefully it will continue to be an uneventful storm.”

Many other businesses around Bennett’s Creek elected to remain open, including Nail Time at Creekside Village Shopping Center.

Owner Nicole Nghiem said, “This morning, I woke up and the wind wasn’t that bad; plus its only 10 minutes from my house.”

By 11:30 a.m. the phone had rung once, she said — someone checking whether the doors were open. “But we haven’t had any business yet,” Nghiem added.

A couple of shops down, Folk City Tattoo was learning that wild weather doesn’t much dampen demand for body art.

Off-duty Suffolk firefighter Joe Jarman said he had come in for a pre-scheduled half-sleeve after finishing a shift, adding, “They haven’t told anybody to stand by in the department.”

“I just woke up and came here,” said tattoo artist Logan Davis, who was working with fellow artist Ric Casey. The pair also had one other four-hour job for the day. “I figured we were open regardless.”

Meanwhile, Danny Whitaker’s house on Bennett’s Pasture Road backs up to the Nansemond River, but he wasn’t concerned about the high water.

“We’re still 15 feet above the level, even though there’s a lot of water out there now,” he said.

Whitaker’s pier was partially submerged, like scores of others around Suffolk, but he said he’d lifted the boats and either brought in or tied down everything else.

“I’ve lived here 35 years,” the retiree said. “It’s a bad nor’easter, but not as bad as I’ve seen. Isabel was much worse, and Irene I think was a little worse.”

Whitaker predicted water levels would subside when the wind starts blowing from the northwest.