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Road closures, downed electric lines to delay first day of school

Hurricanes and Tropical StormsHurricane Irene (2011)Travel Alerts

Harford County came out relatively unscathed from the brunt of Hurricane Irene, with no injuries, serious flooding or damage reported Sunday morning.

The storm nevertheless downed plenty of trees and wires, which left thousands without power and shut down roads.

As a result of those problems, Harford County Public Schools announced late Sunday afternoon that classes would not be held Monday, which was scheduled to be the first day of the 2011-12 school year.

"Due to county-wide damage caused by Hurricane Irene, HCPS will be closed tomorrow, Monday, August 29, 2011," the announcement read. "Employees Code Green - only those essential custodial employees should report."

Harford County government also announced late Sunday afternoon that all county government offices will be closed Monday.

"Due to the fact that there remains widespread power outages as a result of Hurricane Irene, as well as a number of county roads that remain closed, Harford County government offices will be closed Monday, August 29, 2011," the county's announcement read. "Critical employees must report for work as scheduled. Additional information on storm recovery efforts will be forthcoming."

Despite the closures, Harford County appeared to get through the storm much better than expected.

"We were fortunate with the flooding. It wasn't an event like Hurricane Isabel, which was sort of a perfect storm," Ben Lloyd, a spokesman for Harford County government, said Sunday morning. "The way [Irene] was spinning, it sort of pushed water down the bay. Low tide was sort of at the right time."

Power problems

Power, or lack thereof, was the biggest problem, and power was going out quicker than crews could fix it.

As of 11:53 a.m., 54,701 BGE customers were without power in Harford County, with 28,530 already restored. An hour later, 59,011 customers were reporting their power was out. Then by 1:45, about 50,000 were still powerless.

As of 5:36 p.m., the BGE website was reporting 52,862 customers without power in the county and 37,827 had been restored.

BGE has almost 101,000 customers in Harford.

Outage maps on the company website showed the greatest concentrations of outages in the town of Bel Air and the cities of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, but outlying areas still had their share as well.

BGE was telling customers it could be a minimum of three days before power is restored. BGE repairs main power lines and equipment first, those that restore power to the most customers at once. Then it restores individual transformers and smaller lines to individual homes and businesses, according to the BGE website.

Areas that did have power, like downtown Bel Air near Harford Mall, were bustling with activity Sunday morning.

The McDonald's at the intersection of Route 24 and Baltimore Pike was mobbed with lines to the back walls. The drive through line at Taco Bell was also long. The parking lot at Harford Mall was filling up quickly, too.

Residents without power were trying to make the best of it.

Linda Eberly and her husband, Ronald, who were without power in Street, drove to Linda's best friend's house on Winslow Court in Fountain Green. Barbara Rook didn't have power, either, but she had a generator.

Rook said that during the last big storm, Isabel, she lost power for five days, which is why she has the generator.

"We're powering the important things, the coffee machine, the sump pump," she said, adding it will also power the refrigerator and freezer later.

Ronald Eberly said he drove from Street to Fountain Green to recharge his electric cigarette.

Their neighbors, Marci Muffley, and her children, Ellie, 120 and Carly, 8, were outside talking with Rook. Muffley and her family had driven around Sunday morning in search of coffee, but couldn't find any, so she got some from Rook.

Heidi Padilla found coffee, but she had to go all the way to Aberdeen to get it.

She and her husband, Josh, and their son, Nathaniel, 7, who also live in Fountain Green, were out walking their neighborhood Sunday morning.

"We're burning off energy," Heidi Padilla said.

They had driven to Port Deposit earlier to check on the house, which Heidi said was without power, but otherwise OK.

The line at Wawa was "huge," Josh Padilla said. Customers were waiting for it to be brewed, but it was the only gig in town.

Around 2:30 p.m. Sunday, skies had cleared and the sun was shining brightly on the west side of the county in the Fallston area. Winds had also died down.

An hour earlier, a number of people could be seen walking dogs and riding bikes along the Bottom Road and the wooded trails of the Gunpowder Falls State Park's Laurel Brook Area off Bottom Road in Fallston.

The Little Gunpowder was muddy and flowing swiftly, but the stream was well within its banks and the water appeared to have receded several feet from where it had been at the height of the storm.

Most of the rural neighborhood surrounding that area of the park was without power, and several generators could be heard humming in the distance.

Roads closed

The county reported 93 road sections closed as of 1 p.m. Sunday. Another 20 that had been closed were cleared, according to a press release from county government spokesman Ben Lloyd

"The vast majority of those are due to trees crossing the road," Lloyd said earlier Sunday.

They included Abingdon Road between the I-95 bridge and Route 40, and parts of Wheel Road, Patterson Mill Road and Singer Road.

The Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge carrying Route 40 traffic over the Susquehanna River was operating under a Phase I Wind Warning.

There were also several dozen reports of trees falling on homes, but "we haven't had any reports of injuries in Harford County from that," Lloyd said.

Only 15 evacuees took advantage of the county's designation emergency shelter, Patterson Mill High School. Lloyd said eight of them were from one home that was damaged by a tree.

The shelter was set to remain open for the foreseeable future. Lloyd warned the danger was not over in the morning.

"As the ground got really saturated and the winds… are still pretty high, we are seeing more trees falling on power lines," he said. "We will probably see that for the rest of the day. There's still going to be an issue with wind. Trees are in a weakened state."

County crews were out in the morning, surveying damage and making repairs, he said.

"They are doing a great job in pretty difficult circumstances," Lloyd said.

Please stay home

He advised residents to remain indoors for most of the day unless they had to go out.

The county sent out a mass phone call around 10 a.m. Sunday.

"Good morning, this is Harford County Emergency Manager Rick Ayers with an update from Hurricane Irene. The county has over 56,000 customers without power and several trees are down on county roads making driving conditions hazardous. Also, the traffic lights at many major intersections are not functioning. county law enforcement officials are requesting county citizens to remain off the roads today if at all possible. Also, they would like to remind motorists that when traffic signals are out, the intersection becomes a four-way stop and to yield the right away accordingly."

"The county is also requesting that citizens do not call 911 to report flooded basements or report power outages," the message continued. "If you are without power and want to call BG&E that phone number is 1-877-778-2222 or Delmarva Power at 1-800-898-8042. Thanks and have a good day."

"For safety reasons and to allow utility crews to perform their work, Harford County residents are asked to stay off the roads today unless absolutely necessary," a media advisory issued Sunday afternoon by Harford County government stated.

"If travel is necessary, drivers are reminded to treat intersections with malfunctioning traffic signals as four-way stops," the advisory continued. "Also, residents using generators are advised to ensure that there is adequate ventilation so as to negate the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning."

A busy night, nothing serious

No damage to large structures was reported, Dave Williams, a spokesman for Harford County Fie and EMS Association, said, nor could he recall any specific emergency incidents overnight.

"The fire service was very busy throughout the county as expected with everything from wires and utility poles down and/or arcing, trees into structures, carbon monoxide detector calls, automatic fire alarms, dwelling fires, voluntary evacuations. Major challenges in addition to the rain and wind conditions were blocked roadways due to trees, poles and wires being down in the roads which made it difficult for units to access some incidents," Williams wrote in an e-mail.

About 20 buildings were reported as having significant damage from falling debris. The Harford County Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits had four crews of inspectors performing structural assessments to determined whether they are inhabitable, Lloyd wrote in his release.

The EOC remained activated Sunday afternoon to coordinate recovery. Harford County Executive David Craig visited it three times during the storm, and visited the shelter Sunday morning.

"Hurricane Irene has left her mark on Harford County, and it will be days and even weeks until everything is back to normal," Craig said in the release. "I have to commend the ECO and our county crews who have worked around the clock to coordinate recovery efforts."

"I want to assure all Harford County residents that we will be working 24-7 to restore our infrastructure, and I ask for their cooperation and understanding during this process."

Towns, cities fare well

Havre de Grace and Aberdeen likewise did not report any major problems other than power outages.

Mayor Wayne Dougherty, in Havre de Grace, said one tree came down on a home at Stokes and Ontario streets, and a resident was evacuated there.

"We had some trees come down," he said. "We have a lot of cleanup to do."

But Havre de Grace "avoided any flooding which is good," he added. "Everything looks good… I think where we were lucky is when it would rain and there would be a 30-minute stop, that's where we really fared well. The water in the bay being pushed out, that really helped."

In Havre de Grace Sunday afternoon, a large tree was still blocking the CSX Railroad's track between Lewis Lane and Ontario Street. The track is on the freight railroad's main line between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Farther west on Route 40, most of the west side of Aberdeen was without power

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett said the main area of the city where roads had to be closed was near Old Philadelphia Road and Route 7.

"That was a drain and we got that cleared up right away," he said.

Also, "we had one [tree] on New County Road that went into a house and [there] was some damage, but nobody's hurt."

Perryville Mayor Jim Eberhardt said the town likewise had no flooding or major problems, although he warned, at about 10:40 a.m., that residents were not out of the woods yet.

"The ground's so saturated," he said, adding there were sporadic power outages, and one transformer was out, which cut electricity to some homes.

But, he said, "I think from the town's standpoint, we made out very well."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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