Maryland “Watching” And Waiting for ‘Irene’

Friday, August 26, 2011 – John Patti, Bill Vanko and Robert Lang and Associated Press
Hurricane Irene has weakened slightly to a Category 2 storm as it approaches the East Coast, where a hurricane warning has been extended to New Jersey.

Thousands of visitors and residents have evacuated Ocean City, Maryland as Hurricane Irene bears down on the Atlantic coast and Governor Martin O’Malley has warned residents to be prepared for a “monster” storm.

“This is a very, very serious event,” the governor said after declaring a state of emergency.

BGE says there could be a half million storm related power outages over the next few days and restoration could take a few days.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said there were probably about 125,000 to 150,000 people in Ocean City. Officials had been urging visitors to head home, but on Thursday they also told the 7,000 or so residents in town to seek shelter elsewhere. O’Malley said it’s hoped the town will be evacuated by 5 p.m. Friday.

Click here to track Hurricane Irene.

Meehan said the last time Ocean City ordered an evacuation was in 1985 for Hurricane Gloria.

“It’s scary,” said Faith Wright of Pittsburgh as she cradled her 1-year-old daughter Tally in her arms outside a local Holiday Inn where the two had been staying with her mother.

Wright said she didn’t know whether she would try to drive the six-plus hours back to Pittsburgh on Thursday night or try to find a place to stop along the way.

“I’m not happy,” Kelly White of Waymart, Pa., said as her husband, Thomas, loaded up the family’s GMC Yukon outside the high-rise condo where the family had expected to say through Saturday. “This is normal summer vacation cut short. Thanks, Irene.”

As visitors began fleeing the city, local shop owners were boarding up windows. Long lines formed at gas stations as visitors sought to fill up for the ride home or somewhere out of the storm’s path.

“We got gas early,” Louis Riesco of Fairfax, Va., said with a smile, thanking his wife for her timely tip as he finished loading up the family’s SUV.

Not everyone was in a hurry to leave. Tourists could still be seen outside restaurants and bars Thursday evening, and some families were taking the opportunity to get in a last round of miniature golf.

“We’re leaving tomorrow,” said Bob Preston of Jamison, Pa., as his wife, Rene, finished a putt at one of the several mini-golf courses lining the city’s busy thoroughfare.

Preston, whose family vacations in Ocean City every summer, recalled visitors being advised to leave in advance of a storm several years when his son, now a teenager, was just a baby.

“You always run into that risk when you come down here in the summertime,” he said.

Officials took pains to warn that Irene cannot be taken lightly.

“This is a large, this is a deadly, this is a slow-moving hurricane that is bearing down on the state of Maryland, and we need all citizens to do their job of taking every precaution to protect their families, especially over these next critical few days,” O’Malley said at the state’s emergency management center in Reisterstown. He urged residents to stock up on supplies that will last at least 72 hours after the hurricane makes landfall this weekend.

“People should not waste time,” O’Malley added. “This is not a time to get out the camera and sit on the beach and take pictures of the waves.”

O’Malley said the center of Irene will arrive off the coast of Ocean City, with the eye wall very possibly even over the beachfront community by 2 a.m. Sunday. He also said the city could start feeling gale force winds around 5 p.m. Saturday.

Mayor Meehan said the beach replenishment program and dune system will mean that beachfront properties will be better-protected in this storm than in the past, but with heavy rain, high tide and the storm surge, there may be major flooding downtown from the bay side.

Phase three of the hurricane action plan took effect at midnight Thursday, with anyone other than emergency personnel instructed to leave. Meehan also banned the sale of alcohol and requested that all businesses close by midnight.

No cars except emergency vehicles and those approved by the mayor, city manager or emergency services director will be permitted to enter the beach town.

O’Malley noted that the breadth of the storm will likely stretch to Frederick in the western part of the state.

O’Malley said flooding will likely be most intense on the Lower Eastern Shore, but he noted that the tidal surge of the Chesapeake Bay can be difficult to predict. On Thursday, the forecast called for a 5-foot surge.

Tropical Storm Isabel in September 2003 caused tidal surges of as much as 8 feet in the Chesapeake Bay, leading to heavy flooding in downtown Annapolis and other coastal areas. Isabel started as a Category 5 hurricane with winds exceeding 155 mph before it weakened to a tropical storm after hitting North Carolina’s Outer Banks. That storm forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 residents, downed trees, left hundreds of thousands without power and caused extensive damage that required years of insurance claims and rebuilding.

In the case of Irene, the governor noted that state officials are bracing for many downed trees due to strong winds and saturated ground.

“We are in touch and in coordination with BGE and also with PEPCO, but citizens should anticipate long periods of electrical outages once these gale force winds start lashing across our state in this slow-moving, very large and very deadly hurricane,” O’Malley said.

Asked about concerns about the effects of 110 mph winds on infrastructure, O’Malley said the state’s top concern now is for people’s safety.

“There will be a time for repair after this storm,” O’Malley said. “There will be a time for recovery after this storm, but right now our primary concern is safeguarding human beings and getting people out of the way of this storm.”

International student work force evacuation is expected to be completed by Friday morning. The Municipal Transportation System is providing transportation for special needs persons.

Ocean City advisory radio station 1670 AM will remain operational for further advisories.

Total rainfall for Ocean City over the next three days is forecast to be 9 inches or more.

Tropical Storm Warning For Baltimore Area

The National Weather Service has issued a Tropcial Storm Warning for all of the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal portion of the Potomac River as well as a flash flood watch from Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning.

Ocean City Emergency Management Release:

Ocean City Emergency Management officials will initiate phase three of the hurricane action plan in preparation for Hurricane Irene. Phase three will go into effect at midnight tonight.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan has signed a proclamation declaring a local State of Emergency.

All persons other than identified emergency personnel are ordered to evacuate. Visitors are asked to return to their principle residences. Ocean City residents are asked to seek shelter elsewhere.

Utilizing the authority under a local State of Emergency, the Mayor is banning the sale of all alcohol in Ocean City and requests that all businesses close beginning at midnight.

All incoming traffic to Ocean City, Maryland, will be limited to emergency personnel. No other vehicles will be permitted entry to the island, except by approved authority (Mayor, City Manager and Emergency Services Director).

Ocean City Municipal Transportation System is providing transportation for special needs individuals. For special needs transportation, please call Ocean City Transportation at 410-723-1606. International student workforce evacuation continues and will be completed by tomorrow morning.

Ocean City is expected to receive a significant impact from Hurricane Irene.

Easterly gale force winds should start affecting the area on Saturday, August 27 at 5 p.m. with hurricane-force winds arriving around 4 a.m. and lasting for a period of eight hours. The highest wind speeds from Hurricane Irene should occur near 9 a.m. when top sustained winds, from the north, could reach 90 mph with gusts near 120 mph. Winds should decrease below hurricane force shortly thereafter.

Sustained winds will fall below gale force after 3 p.m. and generally be from the north during this period of decreasing winds. Expect gusts above gale force level for several more hours thereafter.

The total rainfall for the Ocean City area over the next three days is forecast to be 9.5 inches. This can vary significantly as tropical storm and hurricane rainfall is very difficult to predict.

Storm surge is expected to be six-feet above normal high tide cycles resulting in significant flooding in low-lying areas.

From North Carolina to New England, officials are calculating what they need to do if Irene becomes the first major hurricane to strike the East Coast in seven years.

They’re scrambling to inspect bridges, dusting off evacuation plans and getting sandbags ready for potential floods. And considering where and when to move people out of harm’s way.

Irene could hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Saturday afternoon with winds around 115 mph. It’s predicted to chug up the East Coast, dumping rain from Virginia to New York City before a much-weakened form reaches land in Connecticut. Finally, it should peter out in Maine by Monday afternoon.

Nearly the entire coasts of North and South Carolina are under a hurricane warning. Residents and tourist in coastal counties have been told to clear out. Hurricane watches are out from North Carolina to New Jersey. The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, and New Jersey have made emergency declarations to free up resources. Packing winds of around 115 mph, Irene has caused widespread damage in the Bahamas. 

 East Coast residents are likely to feel some pain at the gas pump because of Hurricane Irene. That’s because refineries are likely to close in advance of the storms arrival. Analysts say the shutdowns are already boosting prices.

Barriers are being put up around the earthquake-damaged Washington National Cathedral to protect the public as Hurricane Irene bears down on the mid-Atlantic region. Tuesday’s quake damaged three of the four spires on the cathedral’s central tower. The Washington landmark will remain closed at least through Sept. 4.

The head of the National Emergency Management Agency in the Bahamas says he is getting what he calls disturbing initial reports of damages from Hurricane Irene in two southern islands.

Capt. Stephen Russell tells The Associated Press that at least two settlements have been devastated on Acklins and Crooked islands. Russells says an official there reports that 90 percent of the homes in the settlements have been severely damaged or destroyed. Several hundred people live on each island. No injuries have been reported.

The two islands were among the first to be hit Wednesday as the hurricane made its way up the island chain.

Officials have canceled some trips for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry because of Hurricane Irene.

The vessels will not depart Cape May at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and at 10:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. on Sunday.

Departures from Lewes, Del., are canceled for 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tourists began evacuating from a tiny barrier island off North Carolina on Wednesday as Hurricane Irene strengthened to a major Category 3 storm over the Bahamas with the East Coast in its sights.

Irene had already wrought destruction across the Caribbean, giving a glimpse of what the storm might bring to the Eastern Seaboard. In Puerto Rico, tens of thousands were without power, and one woman died after trying to cross a swollen river in her car. At least hundreds were displaced by flooding in the Dominican Republic, forced to take refuge in schools and churches. In Cuba, the storm sent waves crashing over a seawall in Baracoa, causing ankle-deep flooding in parts and damaging some sidewalks.

“I’ve been through one hurricane and I don’t want to see another,” said Susan Hooper of Paris, Illinois, who was cutting short a trip with her husband, Marvin, to celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary. “My main concern is what if something happened to the airport. How would I get home?”

Forecasters warned it could get worse: The storm could strengthen in the next day or so. Irene could crawl up the coast Sunday toward the Northeast region, where residents aren’t accustomed to such storms.

It’s been more than seven years since a major hurricane, considered a Category 3 with winds of at least 111 mph (179 kph), hit the East Coast. Hurricane Jeanne came ashore on Florida’s east coast in 2004.

In Massachusetts, country music star Kenny Chesney bumped a concert ahead two days so it would be held ahead of Irene, and state officials were making sure communications systems were working and sandbags were stocked. In Rhode Island, officials stockpiled sandbags and cleared storm drains to prepare for possible flooding.

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