As Hurricane Irene moves closer to Maryland, Annapolis MayorJoshua J. Cohen declared a State of Emergency within the city limits, effective 10 a.m. Friday, urging residents in low-lying areas to evacuate by Saturday afternoon.
Worcester County also ordered a mandatory evacuation by 9 a.m. Saturday in the following areas: West Ocean City Sanitary Service Area (east of Herring Creek and north of Old Bridge Road); all properties east of Route 611 (Stephen Decatur Highway); and all properties in South Point (both sides of South Point Road). This includes Cape Isle of Wight, West Ocean City, Mystic Harbour, Snug Harbor, Assateague Point, Frontier Town Camp Ground, Castaways and others. County Commissioners also strongly recommended evacuation of all waterfront properties throughout Worcester County and all occupants of mobile homes.
Storm force winds were expected to begin affecting the state's coast earlier in the day on Saturday; isolated thunderstorms were in the forecast for the Baltimore area on Friday.
The hurricane, which had weakened slightly to Category 2 by Friday morning. Baltimore remains under a Tropical Storm Warning, with winds forecast to reach 31 to 36 mph Saturday night, increasing to 36 to 46 mph, with gusts to 60 mph. Delmarva beach resorts are under a Hurricane Warning, and expecting sustained winds of 70 to 90 mph, with gusts to 105 mph by Saturday night.
The city and other Western Shore communities might see a modest storm surge of just 1 to 3 feet overnight into Sunday, compared with the 8 to 9 feet during Tropical Storm Isabel, forecast officials said.
Annapolis High School will open as a pet-friendly shelter at 4 p.m. Saturday. The mayor has also ordered all four city garages to allow any residents who want to evacuate to park for free. Anyone needing assistance with transportation to the shelter should call 410-260-2211 after 3 p.m. Saturday.
As part of the State of Emergency, the mayor activated the hurricane call center. Anyone requesting information or needing non-emergency assistance related to the hurricane can call 410-260-2211 24 hours a day through the duration of this event.
With more than 400 miles of waterfront and many peninsulas,Anne Arundel County has floodprone areas whose residents are being warned to take precautions this weekend. That holds especially true for South County - the area from Annapolis south, which has long-established picturesque communities along rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
"If they were flooded in Isabel – heads up – you probably will be likely to flood again," said Tracie Reynolds, an Anne Arundel County spokeswoman.
Worcester County shelters will open at 5 p.m. Friday. These shelters include Stephen Decatur High School, Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS), Snow Hill High School and Pocomoke High School (PHS).
Pet friendly shelters include SDMS, PHS and Worcester County Animal Control. Domestic animals, dogs, cats and ferrets, may be housed at these locations. Those seeking shelter for their pets at either SDMS or PHS must remain at the facility where their animal is housed. The following items are needed to house pets at any of the pet-friendly shelters: carriers, food and water, which are mandatory for all pets; proof of vaccination, pet litter, litter pans and medications as needed.
Baltimore officials are urging Fells Point residents who live in low-lying areas to relocate their vehicles. Citizens may park their vehicles at the following garages and lots starting at 8 a.m. Saturday: Caroline Street Garage, 805 S. Caroline St.; Fleet and Eden Street Garage, 501 Eden St.; Edison Parking Lots at Fallsway and High streets. Residents in flood-prone areas in South Baltimore, Cherry Hill, Westport, may move their vehicles to Lot O of the stadium lots. Vehicles need to be removed from these locations no later than 7 a.m. Monday.
On Thursday Ocean City officials ordered residents and visitors to evacuate the oceanfront community for the first time in more than two decades.
Gov.Martin O'Malley declared a state of emergency as the storm threatened significant flooding and widespread power outages when it arrives in Maryland sometime Saturday night.
"This is not a storm to be taken lightly," O'Malley said. "People who live in coastal areas should take every precaution," he said. The state of emergency designation activates the state National Guard.
Ocean City residents and visitors have been cooperating with the local state of emergency order issued by Mayor Rick Meehan, requiring everyone but emergency personnel to leave the city by 5 p.m. Friday, a city spokeswoman said.
"It seems to be going pretty orderly," the spokeswoman, Donna Abbott, said Friday morning. "People are boarding up and leaving. The message is getting out and I think people are heeding it."
Weather forecasters placed the Maryland and Delaware coasts and the lower Chesapeake Bay under a Hurricane Watch. That means hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours. Baltimore, the Western Shore from Cecil County south, and the rest of the Chesapeake Bay were all under a Tropical Storm Warning.
The National Hurricane Center said Irene's projected path had crept farther to the west during the day
Instead of passing Delmarva at some distance offshore, as had been hoped, Irene's core winds are more likely to pass right over the mid-Atlantic beaches or just inland.
Forecasters at AccuWeather.com have predicted that Irene has the potential for the "worst hurricane impacts in 50 years along the northern part of the Atlantic seaboard."
The Giant supermarket on York Road just north of the city line was hopping by 7 a.m. Friday with checkout lines three and four deep as people stocked up on supplies before the storm. People were loading up carts with bottled water, bread, snacks and, yes, toilet paper.
"Batteries?" a clerk said to a customer before pointing her to a picked-over display. "What's out there is all we got, hon."
Irene's arrival will mark the first time that a dangerous tropical system has threatened Maryland since 2003, when Tropical Storm Isabel battered dozens of waterfront communities. The evacuation of Ocean City, which was to begin at midnight Friday, was the first in more than two decades. The last time beach-goers were ordered to leave was in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria hit, town officials said.
"We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," said Donna Abbott, a spokeswoman for the town of Ocean City.
Ed McDonough, a spokesman for Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said the agency has been coordinating with local officials across the state, and plans to closely monitor the storm from its headquarters in Reisterstown.
"People should be monitoring the weather forecasts," said McDonough. "What they need to realize is that storm could veer a big distance, and even 50 miles could have a huge effect on our conditions. This could be a dangerous storm."
BGE was planning for at least 100,000 customers to lose power, but with the ability to scale up the response to cope with several hundred thousand more, if needed.
By mid-day Thursday, at least 108 repair crews — some 300 personnel from as far away as Kentucky — had arrived in Baltimore to assist the utility's own crews in putting the system back together once the storm passes. More were en route.
Roughly 200 bucket trucks and other repair vehicles from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Kentucky were parked in rows at an unused parking lot near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Another staging area, for 200 more out-of-state linemen, was being set up on a Lockheed Martin lot in Middle River.
Gary Hall, 53, from Clay City, Ky., is supervising about 200 men assembled from several utilities by the David H. Elliot Co. to help BGE's own crews. "I've worked in 19 states over 34 years, as far north as Philadelphia and all over the South. I enjoy it," said Hall.
His crews worked in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "We didn't have rooms for about a week; we slept in our trucks," he recalled.
They'll have it better in Baltimore. The "external" linemen are sleeping in hotels, eating breakfast and dinner in a tent erected on the parking lot near BWI, and taking box lunches out on the job. They'll work 16-hour days, all under the watch of a BGE "guide."
Elsewhere, BGE was beefing up regional command centers in company facilities in White Marsh, in Baltimore County, and in Gambrills, Anne Arundel County.
Rob Gould, vice president for corporate communications, said his office had begun robo-calls to customers alerting people to the storm's approach and reminding them to be prepared for prolonged outages. It is the first time BGE has used the system to reach out to all 1.3 million customers.
Transportation officials were also urging cautions to travelers. The state Department of Natural Resources has ordered closed Assateague State Park and its campgrounds beginning at 11 a.m. Friday and continuing until at least Wednesday morning. The main road into the island, Route 611, will be closed to traffic starting Friday at 7 p.m.
Getting in and out of town may also be hampered by the storm, say officials at BWI, which urged travelers to check with airlines on any delays. The Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the Bay Bridge, said Thursday it had no immediate plans to close any of its toll facilities or roadways.
Officials at the Maryland Port Administration said they are monitoring the situation and ready to change plans for the five cargo ship scheduled to arrive in Baltimore on Friday and four on Saturday. The Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas ship was scheduled to leave Baltimore for a nine-night cruise to the Caribbean Thursday, and the Carnival Pride ship is on its way back to Baltimore from the Bahamas.
On Thursday, Ocean City began evacuating its summer workforce of international students to points west, including Towson University.
Towson University spokeswoman Carol Dunsworth said workers will be housed in Burdick Hall, which had three large gymnasiums, where cots and blankets will be set up. The Red Cross will provide meals, Dunsworth said.
The impending hurricane also caused Towson to postpone its weekend move-in plans for about 4,000 students.
Baltimore officials delivered tons of sand and bags late Thursday afternoon for residents and businesses in lowlying areas of the city.
At Fells Point, where prior storms have left watermarks on historic buildings, people scooped up sand and bags quickly, and latecomers waited for another delivery. Some locations were to get as much as 15 tons, with areas refilled as needed Friday, officials said.
"We were told they are expecting a bigger amount of water than ever," said Chris Nova, co-owner of Pitango Gelato, a block from the water, who hoped to get between 20 and 30 bags. He waited, amid a lineup of people perched on the pier's wall, a dolly at his feet to wheel bags to the store.
"I just have some doors I need to cover," he said.
Lauri Krocheski, who lives "close enough" to Fells Point's water, recalled that during Tropical Storm Isabel, water came up to the bottom of the sandbags at her front door, and decided to wait for the city to deliver more sand at the pier.
"We were lucky. I'm hoping we're as lucky this time," she said.
Annapolis will begin dispensing sandbags Friday at 10 a.m.: Market House, at City Dock; Mills Fine Wine & Spirits, on Main Street and at the 2nd Street Pump Station in Eastport.
The storm has already canceled plans for several outdoor activities scheduled for this weekend: Organizers of the inaugural Silopanna Music Festival, which was scheduled to take place in Crownsville Saturday, said tickets will be refunded. Annapolis city officials also called off the city's annual 10 Mile Run – the first time in two decades the event was canceled.
The Maryland State Fair in Timonium is on track to open and operate as scheduled, organizers said. "It would have to get pretty bad for us to close," said assistant general manager Andy Cashman.
The fair, however, has been closed before because of weather, he said. And especially with the recent stage collapse in Indiana, where six people were killed, officials are keeping a close eye on the skies. Officials are in constant touch with the Baltimore County police and fire departments, he said.
"I think we just have to wait and see," he says. "We're here and we're planning on having the fair go on."