By Monday evening, Hurricane Sandy's remains surrounded Ocean City.
From the east, the evening high tide, a full moon and a 7-foot storm surge sent waves crashing over dunes in some spots. To the west, a white-capped Assawoman Bay overflowed onto the narrow barrier island. Gusts whipping to near-hurricane force turned gaps between high rises into wind tunnels.
A decision by town officials to close the Route 90 bridge to nonemergency traffic at 5 p.m. meant there was nothing for those who stayed behind to do but wait, or call for help.
"They're all OK, but no one has ever seen the water to this level," town resident Lauren Bunting said of her neighbors who stayed in their homes. Bunting and some friends opted for the Hilton, built to withstand hurricane-force winds.
Ocean City officials called the storm surge the worst since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Impacts from the storm, formally downgraded to a post-tropical storm after making landfall in southern New Jersey, were expected to continue into Tuesday, though the strongest winds and highest seas were expected late Monday.
About 30 people who opted to stay in downtown Ocean City despite an evacuation Sunday night called for help and were taken to local shelters by the National Guard. Flooding on the mainland drove many others to shelters, with about 180 people in four Worcester County facilities and another 150 in shelters in Wicomico, Caroline and Kent counties.
Evacuations for all low-lying areas of Somerset County began at 1 p.m. Monday, as standing water filled people's homes and downed electrical lines crossed roadways and limited routes in and out of some towns, including Crisfield on the Tangier Sound, according to an emergency center dispatcher.
"Right now, Crisfield is totally under water. People are being evacuated as fast as possible," the dispatcher said.
The National Guard, Coast Guard, and Maryland State Police assisted the Somerset County Sheriff's Office, Crisfield Police Department and at least six fire departments in the evacuation efforts, he said.
"We're doing all that's humanly possible at this time to get people out," the dispatcher said.
Water spared many houses in Ocean City and other parts of Worcester County, not quite rising to door-level. But one West Ocean City man reported chest-high waters there, county spokeswoman Kim Moses said. In downtown Ocean City, Coastal Highway and lower-lying streets were submerged, with water reaching halfway up a mailbox at 17th Street and above car wheels in others.
On the Chesapeake Bay, high tides could continue to bring flooding into Tuesday, potentially 4 to 5 feet above normal, said Kristin McMenamin, emergency services planner for Kent County.
Thousands had lost power in places on the Shore, according to Delmarva Power.
At Assateague Island National Seashore south of Ocean City, a National Park Service spokeswoman said there were early reports of "significant overwash in multiple locations and breaching of dunes," but said more information on the storm's impact on the fragile barrier island and its wild pony herd would have to wait until the storm recedes.
Ocean City officials urged residents to remain indoors.
"If they do so, they'll be safe and out of harm's way," Mayor Rick Meehan said at a news conference.
Officials closed off traffic south of Route 90 early Monday because of flooding. The U.S. 50 bridge leading to and from downtown Ocean City was closed Sunday, leaving no outlet to and from the town when officials closed the Route 90 bridge.
Much of the town and the gathered media focused on the fishing pier at the southern end of the boardwalk. Many of the pilings along the last 150 feet or so of the pier buckled in the heavy surf, with the waves breaking up most of the structure, save for a portion over the shoreline.
Meehan said jokingly that he would trade another 150 feet of the pier to avoid flooding downtown and along Assawoman Bay. About 200 people, or 80 percent of downtown residents, chose to remain in their homes despite the mandatory evacuation south of 17th Street, town Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said.
Among those residents was Sen. James Mathias, who served fir a decade as mayor of Ocean City.
"I slept in my own bed last night, and I'm going to do it again tonight," said Mathias, clad in a long yellow rain slicker and jeans after a tour of flooded areas with emergency officials.
Along the boardwalk, Mathias saw iron benches tossed from one side of the walkway to the other, though informational National Park Service signs his son had installed for an Eagle Scout project were holding strong.
But other town residents chose to ride out the storm elsewhere. At the Hilton, Bunting, the downtown refugee, was joined by neighbors Joel and Christine Brous, who watched from a hotel lobby window as the wind and rain besieged their own hotel, the Flamingo Motel, a block away. They browsed photos on Facebook from neighbors who stayed behind, including one showing a teenage boy surfing the bay floodwaters and another showing a stray boat floating toward bayfront homes.
"We're calling it our evacuation vacation," Bunting said.
"Our evacuation staycation," Joel Brous corrected.
The Hilton was a refuge for other local residents, like Rick and Dawn Goodwin of Ocean Pines. Both work for the Harrison Group, the hotel's owner; he is the Hilton's executive chef and food and beverage director.
"I feel like this is the safest place we could possibly be," Dawn Goodwin said, watching from a protected parking area at the hotel as the wind flung debris toward the beach. "This is a lot better than there," she added, referring to her home, which is surrounded by large trees.
Town officials focused on getting through Monday night. The storm made landfall to the north in New Jersey and moved inland, which may ease conditions later Tuesday.
"The sun will shine again in Ocean City," Theobald said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Tim Wheeler and Kevin Rector contributed to this article.