In another month or so, David Waring is hoping to burn down his house.
Last year, Hurricane Isabel ripped open the front of his Breton Beach home, Waring said, "and pretty much had a ball inside."
Even as new hurricanes tore through Florida and the Gulf Coast last week, people in many of Southern Maryland's waterfront communities were still dealing with last year's storm.
For some, such as the man in St. Mary's County who found only a pile of wood and debris across the road from what used to be his house, the storm brought immediate devastation. For some -- such as the couple on St. George Island who watched the water seep under the doors of their ancestral home and rise around family photographs, books and antiques -- it brought a slow, creeping dread.
Some, such as Waring, who lives on the Potomac River, thought they had been spared. He felt relief while walking through what he thought was his dry house the next day. But then he picked up his computer scanner and saw the water pour out. He found seaweed stuck to his office wall, six feet up from the floor.
All the waves soaked the paperwork and things he had tried to set high enough to stay dry. He found things inside his house that he had never seen before: Debris from the storm seemed to catch there because of the hook shape of the shoreline and then just batter the homes along the river.
He used a snow shovel to scoop stuff out of the house and into a big pile in his yard. Volunteers came to the neighborhood to help haul away trash; they took away more than 100 tons.
"It's basically an oversized doghouse now," he said of his damaged house. Soon, he hopes, he'll be building his new home on the same waterfront site.
Last year, Isabel's winds whipped over 60 miles per hour in Southern Maryland. Usually placid rivers such as the Patuxent and Port Tobacco spilled over their banks. More than 70,000 people lost power, and the storm damaged more than 1,500 homes in Southern Maryland, officials said.
One of the hardest hit communities was North Beach, where the Chesapeake Bay poured over the seawall, destroying 18 waterfront homes and much of the wooden boardwalk.
But Isabel has also been a catalyst in transforming the look of the waterfront. Many of the damaged homes were old one-story bungalows, and several are being replaced with two- and three-story homes.
"It's certainly a way to improve the town, to give it a better image," said Barbara Gray, a member of the Town Council. "It's just a different conception of what North Beach was."
Other projects, planned before Isabel, are emerging to bolster the North Beach revitalization. In a 2.5-block area in the center of town, new condominiums are under construction and plans are in place for a 72-room hotel and spa, featuring 50,000 square feet of retail space and a four-story parking garage. The Bayside History and Nature Center is scheduled to open Oct. 30 in a restored historic residence. And, with federal funds, the wetlands just north of town will be restored with nature trails.
"The only draw we have right now is our beach," said North Beach Mayor Mark Frazer. "The town will become a weekend destination instead of a day-trip destination."
Others also have managed to rise from the Isabel knockdown. Two feet of water gutted Captain John's Crab House near the entrance to Cobb Island in Charles County. The restaurant reopened for business quickly, but the damages amounted to about $700,000, said owner Jack Yates, and the repairs are still underway. The pier hasn't been completely rebuilt, and the outdoor market still needs work, he said.
"Every time I see a hurricane on TV now, I don't know what to think. It's scary," Yates said.
On St. George Island in St. Mary's County, Regina Morgan has one of the oldest homes. Isabel dropped a tree on her porch and filled the first floor with water up to her hips. "It's a long process," Morgan said, "especially if you're not insured. Even people who were insured had a lot of complaints about not getting what they should be getting from the insurance company. On the island, some people have lost their homes and not been able to rebuild."
But after a long, difficult year, she said, "we are just about to the point where we're just about ready to say we have made it all through."
Throughout St. Mary's, the damage totaled $83 million, said Robin Finnacom, who served as hurricane recovery coordinator for the county. Emergency officials in Charles and Calvert said they did not have damage cost estimates available. Calvert received close to $600,000 in federal disaster relief, while Charles received about $350,000, county officials said this year. St. Mary's has received about $900,000, but a recovery official said other reimbursement requests are pending.
"It's a long recovery period," Finnacom said. "There are families still working with insurance companies, still working with FEMA to try to rebuild their homes." Both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration have been involved in assisting with the recovery.
Thousands of piers were destroyed throughout Southern Maryland, and much of the coastline eroded. "None of that was addressed through insurance companies, FEMA or the SBA," Finnacom said. "We know of properties that have lost substantial amounts of land, some of it crop land, and in most instances that's just gone and it's gone forever."