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History of Delmarva (1983: Doomsday)

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The history of Delmarva focuses on the American survivor state that arose on the Delmarva Peninsula.


The Delmarva Peninsula is a 180 mile long, 60 mile wide peninsula located in the mid-Atlantic region of the former United States.  Delmarva is surrounded on all four sides by water:  north by the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, which severed the peninsula from land beginning in the early 19th Century; west and south by the Chesapeake Bay; and east by the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.  In 1983, the peninsula contained portions of three US states:  Accomack and Northampton Counties of Virginia; Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, Worcester, and portions of Cecil Counties in Maryland; and Sussex, Kent, and lower New Castle Counties in Delaware.   

Prominent cities on the peninsula included Dover, the state capital of Delaware and the largest city; Salisbury, Maryland, where the main commercial area was located; and the resort and beach communities of Ocean City, Maryland and Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach, and Lewes, DE.  However, Delmarva was in many ways isolated from the vast urban areas to its west, such as Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD by its watery barrier.  In 1983, Delmarva was accessible by land from only three locations: south via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from Norfolk, VA; west, by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis, MD; and north by a series of four bridges which spanned the canal.  Delmarva contained a number of airfields, both private and commercial, including the Wicomico Regional Airfield in Salisbury.  Residents often referred to themselves as being independent from their states and a different breed altogether.  Throughout history, the areas of VA and MD had often floated a proposal to leave their respective states and merge with DE, taking the name Delmarva. 

Basically rural in nature, dotted with farms and small towns, the region also included areas of urbanization.  The economy was concentrated in agriculture, aquaculture, lumbering, tourism, sports hunting, and fishing as well as industrialization.  The region was known for producing large quantities of potatoes, corn, green beans, soybeans, grains, and tomatoes and also featured several wineries.  The waters and marshes of Delmarva contained a cornucopia of fish, crustaceans, and waterfowl, including crabs, oysters, trout, and geese.  The peninsula was home to a number of poultry farms including Perdue Farms, whose headquarters was located in Salisbury.  Additionally, the Wallops Flight Facility, an extension of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center which was primarily used as a rocket launch site, was located on the eastern shore near Chincoteague, Virginia.   


The evening of Sunday, September 25, 1983, was quiet along the Eastern Shore.  With the Labor Day holiday having passed two weeks earlier, the holiday crowds had headed back home turning the bustling beach resorts to ghost towns.  Among the farms of the peninsula harvest season was already underway. The weather had been pleasant and in the 70s much of the day with light and variable winds blowing east, but with the fall of night the temperatures had started to drop towards the 40s.  For people who had either tuned in either to television or radio news broadcasts, the reports they heard regarding national and global events did not appear anymore alarming than usual and as survivors would later state, gave no indication to the impending tragedy.   

At home President Ronald Reagan had flown to New York City where he was preparing to speak to the United Nations General Assembly the next day about new arms control proposals; Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger was in China to meet with officials about improving relationships between the two nations; and airline passengers were scrambling to get to their destinations after being stranded when all Continental Airlines planes had been grounded after the company declared bankruptcy the day earlier.  Internationally, in Beirut, Lebanon a ceasefire had been reached between the Lebanese government and Druze militia who had been fighting in the capital for three weeks.  The US contingent of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force stationed in the city had come under fire again and three marines had been wounded; 38 IRA terrorists had staged a massive breakout from Maze Prison outside Belfast, Northern Ireland killing a guard.  Police had recaptured eleven; The search for debris and bodies from a South Korean passenger plane shot down by the USSR on September 1 had been postponed due to bad weather; and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was threatening to arrest businessmen who participated in anti-government protests.  Locally, Washington DC Mayor Marion Barry had been hospitalized with chest pains and was expected to stay at least a week to undergo tests.  In sports, the Washington Redskins football team had beaten the Seattle Seahawks 27-17 and the Baltimore Orioles baseball team had won the American League east championship beating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-1.   

Most people were home relaxing, preparing for work the next day or already asleep.  A number had tuned in at 8 PM to NBC to watch the 35th Annual Emmy Awards from the Pasadena, CA Civic Auditorium which was being hosted by Eddie Murphy and Joan Rivers.  Others were watching Hardcastle and McCormick on ABC or One Day at a Time on CBS.  At approximately 8:52 PM, the major television networks suddenly cut away to special bulletins, including an announcement by the White House, that the USSR had launched nuclear weapons against the US.  No sooner than these bulletins had gone out, the Emergency Broadcast System went into effect on radio and television.  Stunned residents were urged to stay off the streets and seek appropriate shelter to protect against possible fallout for up to two weeks and have enough food and water to sustain themselves during that time.  They were told to have battery operated equipment, including radios, handy and unplug electrical appliances and phones in anticipation of EMP discharges.     

Prior to Doomsday, it was a known fact certain areas of the United States had been targeted by the Soviet Union for multiple strikes in the event of a nuclear attack due to the existence of numerous military, government, and industrial sites.  One region was a corridor running approximately northeast from northern Virginia through Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, northern New Jersey, and New York City.  Another was the Norfolk-Newport News, Virginia area because of the presence of US Naval facilities.  It was this very knowledge which sent millions of people fleeing following the first reports.  Highways, roads, and streets in many locations were instantly transformed into scenes of chaos and sheer pandemonium; hopelessly snarled by massive traffic jams and exacerbated by untold numbers of accidents.  

Despite this disorder, people did manage to escape in some places.  Many fled along Route 50 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, primarily from the Annapolis, MD area.  Bridge officials quickly adjusted traffic patterns on both spans to allow for only traffic heading into Delmarva.  Maryland State Police did their best to maintain order and direct the traffic south towards Salisbury or east towards the coast.  To the south a nearly identical situation was playing out as motorists fled via Route 13 from Norfolk over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel and onto the peninsula.  Many also fled south from northern Delaware along Routes 1 and 13.  Other quick thinking people managed to make it too small planes, helicopters, and boats and sought escape

Throughout the tri-state area, states of emergency went into effect on the orders of the governors of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.  In Dover, Delaware Governor Pierre S. du Pont, IV ordered the immediate evacuation of the state capital and advised residents to leave high target regions in the north and head south.  National Guard units began mobilizing and fanning out to help keep order.  As the declarations of emergency moved down to the county and local government level, civil defense procedures went into effect and fire, police, rescue, and hospital services were alerted.  In many places local government officials were rushed from their homes to civil defense shelters to coordinate efforts as they unfolded.  

At about 9:14 PM, the Delmarva Peninsula suddenly plunged into darkness and most internal and external communications were lost, including telephones and radios. A number of motor vehicles instantly stopped, blocking roads, as their ignitions burned out. It is believed this was a direct result of the detonation of a nuclear device in the upper atmosphere over the continental United States which caused a massive EMP across the nation and parts of Canada and Mexico. Just over a minute later, as people were trying to deal with what had happened, they began observing bright flashes on the distant horizon north, west, and south of the peninsula. These flashes were followed moments later by loud peals of rolling thunder and the shaking of the ground by tremors. Long before the flashes and thunder ended at 10:15 PM, the sky itself had taken on a bright glow of orange and red which continued until morning. More than one witness would compare this to the beginning of a sunrise.

It is now known these observations were bearing witness to the unaccountable destruction of many areas as nuclear weapons exploded over them, followed by massive firestorms. To this day, the exact details regarding the Soviet attack on the United States are still unclear or are being pieced together due to the enormous destruction in many areas as well as the loss of data and the absence of witnesses. What is known, is the Soviet attacks primarily took the form of ICBMs launched from land based silos and offshore submarines. The strength of the warheads varied depending on their targets, including one megaton, 550 kilotons, and 100 kilotons. However, as the vagaries of war oft go, what is planned for or expected does not play out as areas believed targeted are not struck and weapons malfunction or do not hit targets as planned. On the evening of September 25, 1983, such was the case.

It was subsequently determined at least three one megaton warheads detonated over Washington, DC and New York City, with at least two each over the cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Smaller weapons exploded in Northern Virginia over the Pentagon and Fort Myer in Arlington and CIA Headquarters in McLean; in Maryland at Fort George Meade, which included the NSA Headquarters, near Odenton; the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Aberdeen; Fort Detrick in Frederick; Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs; and BWI Airport; and New Jersey at the Fort Dix-McGuire Air Force Base complex in Burlington County; Fort Monmouth in Monmouth Country; Lakehurst Naval Air Station; and Perth Amboy. To the south, at least two one megaton warheads detonated over Norfolk-Newport News, with another going off over the Chesapeake Bay with smaller warheads airbursting over Langley Air Force Base in Hampton and Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. Smaller devices also exploded over a number of secondary sites, including Richmond and Trenton, the capitals of Virginia and New Jersey and locations outside Philadelphia.

As for Delmarva, it had contained two primary targets. The Dover Air Force Base southeast of Dover, Delaware, and Cape Charles Air Force Base in Cape Charles, Virginia. At approximately 9:25 PM, a 550-kiloton warhead exploded over the Dover AFB destroying it and a large portion of the adjacent city. Fires quickly spread, and soon most of the city was ablaze. For reasons unknown however, Cape Charles AFB escaped attack, albeit with all its systems burned out by the EMP. Another site which was untouched, although not on the peninsula, was Annapolis, MD, home to the U.S. Navy Academy. This allowed many cadets and faculty at the college as well as Annapolis residents to evacuate via boat and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to safety on Delmarva before the area was abandoned due to fallout.

By 11:30 PM, only one land access still remained open to the peninsula, the twin spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Although jammed by dead motor vehicles, small groups of people were still crossing by foot. The numbers though had dwindled as fallout fell across the area and massive firestorms raged through many communities. At 11:45 PM, a large freighter, engulfed in flames and adrift, smashed into one of the spans and exploded causing part of it to collapse into the water. Sparks from the fire quickly spread to abandoned cars and trucks on both of the spans and soon most of the bridge was ablaze. Land access to the outside world, was now sealed off.

Post Doomsday

When dawn broke over the peninsula on the morning of September 26, 1983, survivors and residents for the first time could begin to take stock of their situation.  The firestorms still burning in northern Virginia, Washington, DC, central Maryland, southeastern Pennsylvania, and central New Jersey, had created a thick smoky haze which had blotted out the sun turning the daylight hours overcast.  Aside from the attack on the Dover AFB, there had been no direct impact on Delmarva.  The greatest danger came indirectly in the form of radioactive fallout being carried across the region, which monitoring quickly confirmed varied from area to area.  The heaviest and most lethal appeared to be coming down over the northern part of peninsula, as prevailing winds carried it, as well as the toxic smoke from fires, from the strikes in and around Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.  The decision was made by surviving Maryland and Delaware authorities to temporarily abandon these areas and withdraw people below a self-imposed barrier running east, from just below Easton, MD to approximately Milton, DE.  Using emergency radios which had survived they did their best to communicate this.  Although officials and rescue workers had been trying to get people indoors and decontaminated since the attacks began, many were still out in the open.  Thousands of survivors continued to pour down the peninsula from the north, especially from Cecil, Kent, and lower New Castle Counties, many in working vehicles, a number on foot.  To the south, although most of the fallout and smoke from the Norfolk-Newport News strikes was being carried out to sea by winds, heavy amounts were coming down over the tip of the peninsula.  Virginia authorities decided to evacuate people north of Charles Point, Virginia until such a time safety improved.   It was later determined at least 50,000 people had died on Doomsday from the attack on Dover; destruction from the EMP; accidents; and violence.

On September 29, Delmarva took a second hit in the form of tropical storm Dean.  Because weather monitoring equipment had been destroyed in the EMP, no one was aware a tropical depression had formed on September 26 and had been gaining strength since.  People familiar with the signs of incoming storms began to take notice of changing conditions and passed it along to authorities who did their best to prepare.  When Dean came ashore in the early evening over the lower part of the peninsula, it packed winds nearly 60 miles per hour and five foot waves.  As the storm made its way into the Chesapeake Bay, it began to break apart slowly, before moving north as a disorganized system dropping at least two inches of rain across Delmarva and the region, having caused only minor damage.  In addition to helping to blow much of the lingering fallout away from the peninsula and wash away surface contamination, Dean had extinguished fires still burning in many bombed areas and broke-up the lingering haze and smoke.

1983: Delmarva Confederation

In October 1983, representatives from the surviving areas of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware met in Salisbury to discuss forming a loose confederation which would address issues that affected them jointly.  After considerable discussion, the delegates agreed that food and water; safety; refugees; fuel; and electricity were the most significant and set forward policies regarding these areas.  However, each acknowledged they would continue to manage their own internal affairs for the time being beyond these points.   

The confederation agreed to impose fuel and food rationing until such time supplies could be built up to sustain the population.  Support was pledged to the agricultural and aquaculture community, along with offers to provide whatever support was needed to begin preparing for massive planting in the spring.  Farmers were instructed to harvest their remaining crops and get them to markets for distribution.  Large supplies of fuel and food were to be placed under armed guard to ensure their safety and prevent theft.  Hoarding and black marketeering was outlawed and subject to arrest and punishment.   The confederation also agreed to pledge their full support and cooperation to the restoration of electricity throughout the peninsula.  Delmarva Power had already begun work along with the rural cooperatives in trying to restore power, but it was understood to be a long term project because of the EMP damage.  

Surviving members of the US armed forces, including those from the Cape Charles and Dover Air Force Bases, the USNA, and the US Coast Guard, would be merged with existing National Guard units into a single entity known as the Delmarva Civil Defense Force (DCDF) answerable to the confederation to provide external security and assist as needed.  Internal security would be provided on a state and local level by police and sheriffs offices.  Over 300,000 refugees from northern Delmarva and least 20,000 from outside the region were currently scattered in sites throughout the confederation.  The decision was made to move many to the beach resorts where unoccupied hotel and motel rooms could be utilized.  Each county would accept a certain number of refugees, who could be broken into smaller groups and placed within communities. 

1983-1984:  Contact With the Outside World & Operation Survival

In the first days following Doomsday, ham radio operator attempts to establish contact with any surviving region outside Delmarva met with little success due to the residual energy left over from the attacks which interferred with communication. By early October, as the interferrence declined, they began to reach communities in close proximity such as Cape May and Atlantic Counties in New Jersey; Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties in Maryland; and several Virginia counties bordering the Chesapeake, including North Umberland; Lancaster; Mathews, Middlesex, and Richmond.  Over time, these contacts would expand into expeditions into those areas to provide assistance and aid, which in turn would increase their connection with Delmarva. One area in particular the confederation was glad to reach was the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant near Lusby, MD, which was intact but shut down. On October 15, a DCDF boat carrying a confederation delegation and a National Guard detachment arrived at the plant to meet with the operators. The plant had been shut down before the EMP had damaged the systems and currently posed no danger. The staff and guards with nearby families had moved them into the facility for security. Given the collapse of the government and concerns over security and safety, the confederation stated it would assume permanent control over the plant. They evacuated the survivors and other locals interested in leaving to Delmarva for resettlement. 

Additionally, contact was made with a number of surviving maritime vessels. With the sudden destruction of nearly every major seaport on the East Coast, many ships running low on fuel had been searching for a place to safely anchor. DCDF ships were able to escort over a dozen freighters and tankers to safe anchorage in places like Delaware Bay where the crews were brought ashore and the ships and their cargoes were taken into the protective custody of the confederation.

Just after Thanksgiving 1983, radio operators were surprised to make contact with the Quantico Marine Base in Quantico, Virginia, about seventy miles away. Despite assumptions the base had been destroyed on Doomsday, it was in fact still operating, albeit severely limited. Interested in making official contact, a delegation was dispatched via a DCDF boat. They met with a group led by Major General David M. Twomey, the Commanding General of the base. He explained when word reached him of the impending launches he had locked down the base and moved everyone into shelters as best as they could.  After several days, they emerged to assess their situation. Although the base had not been attacked, much of their equipment had been destroyed or damaged by the electromagnetic pulses. About two weeks after the attacks, they established communication with over a thousand survivors at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, MD, just across the Potomac River from Quantico. In the months since, the two groups had worked to patrol and keep secure the area; help refugees; and try to repair what equipment they could. However, despite their best efforts, they continued to face a host of problems, including fuel and food rationing; continuing fallout from the strikes to the north; and encounters with lawless elements. All total, there were just over 7,000 survivors, including about 3,500 marines, several hundred FBI personnel from the FBI Academy and Laboratory located on the base, and scientists from Indian Head.

The delegation, acting with the pre-approval of the confederation, offered Quantico and Indian Head safe haven, with the condition they would have to reach the confederation staging point at Lusby, MD for evacuation. In as much as the offer took them by surprise, General Twomey and the others agreed to take it under consideration. In his heart, General Twomey was pained at the thought of abandoning the bases, but given current conditions and what could be reasonably expected for the future it seemed to be the logical thing to do. However, given the scope of what was being discussed, a discussion needed to be held so they were all in agreement. After two days, General Twomey informed the delegation of their acceptance. He stressed though he wanted to save what he could from the base and did not believe it could all be moved by road. A member of the delegation came up with a suggestion, how about using barges? They had at least four or five barges along with the tugs to navigate them. The barges could be maneuvered up the Potomac to Quantico where they could be loaded.

Nicknamed Operation Survival, it was commenced to begin January 30, 1984. Five barges would leave Delmarva and dock at Quantico where they would be loaded with supplies and materials from both sites, including munitions. One barge would be held aside and loaded with as many women and children it could safely carry. Once loading was completed, the barges would depart. Next, the first of three armed convoys would depart Quantico just before the barges left, with the mission of securing a clear path for both facilities to move overland. Once the routes were secure, a second convoy of all operational vehicles from Indian Head would head for Lusby. Upon their arrival, the final convoy would depart Quantico, including armored vehicles, artillery, buses, trucks, and cars. All military who could march would do so on General Twomey’s orders. 

When the final convoy reached Lusby on February 27, 1983, General Twomey was astonished and grateful for the good fortune which had shone upon the effort. Despite moving in the winter, they had managed to evacuate 7,300 people with the loss of only 50 lives from accidents or attacks. In fact, approximately, 500 additional refugees had jointed their caravan along the way. By March 16, the last of the survivors had been evacuated to Delmarva along with their equipment.

1985-1986:  Salisbury Convention and Delmarva Independence

 By the summer of 1984, Delmarva citizens had come to realize a unified government was needed to address problems of survival.  Despite the best efforts of the confederation, many area governments still viewed their interests as county first, confederation second.  The “Great Dying Time” (see Health), which had resulted in the loss of 36% of the population, had staggered people.  This, accompanied by such problems as the ongoing efforts to restore electricity and the continued rationing of food, finally convinced many the time was overdue to look at themselves as a single entity, not several, if they hoped to survive the future.  In the fall of 1984, this public outcry, influenced by such groups as the CMA and people as General Twomey, led to an agreement to hold a constitutional convention to explore unification.  Each county would send ten delegates, five appointed and five elected, to represent their interests.   

In March 1985, 90 delegates, representing Accomack, Northampton, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, Worcester, Talbot, Caroline, and Sussex Counties, convened in what would come to be known as the Salisbury Convention.  For over two months, the delegates argued and debated over the future of Delmarva, taking time to talk with their respective counties.  On May 3, 1985, the delegates finally signed the Delmarva Constitution, which declared the region’s independence and established it as a new nation based loosely on the old US Constitution, incorporating many of its passages.  The Constitution, which included a Bill of Rights containing twelve amendments, created a unicameral government to be led by a President and Vice President with a single legislative body. (See Government) On July 4, in conjunction with the old US Independence Day, special elections were held throughout Delmarva to give residents an opportunity to ratify the document or remain independent.  If accepted, official elections would be held for President and Vice-President and the legislative body on November 6, with those elected to be sworn in the following year.  An overwhelming majority of voters in each of the nine counties voted to ratify the Constitution and endorse the new government. 

Keeping to tradition, popular elections were subsequently held for the new government on the first Tuesday in November 1985.  Although several candidates ran for the office of UCD President, it would be Salisbury Mayor W. Paul Martin Jr. who would be elected.  Martin, who had just been elected mayor in 1982, had garnered enormous  respect throughout the region because of the outstanding leadership he had shown since Doomsday, especially during the "Great Dying Time."  On January 20, 1986,  the new government was officially sworn into office in Salisbury, which had been designated as the new nation’s capital.

1986-1992: W. Paul Martin Administration

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