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Superstorm Sandy mostly spares Maryland as it moves up coast

By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun

10:34 AM EDT, October 30, 2012

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Central Maryland appears to have been spared the worst of Sandy's fury, which was delivered farther up the Atlantic Coast.

One man was killed after a tree fell on his home in Pasadena. A second was killed in a head-on collision in Clarksburg that officials said was connected to flooding.

No other deaths had been reported in the Greater Baltimore region as of 9:00 a.m., though four people in Howard County were hospitalized following carbon monoxide poisoning related to the use of a gas-powered generator.

Sandy — downgraded from hurricane status just before it made landfall — reached Atlantic City, N.J. at about 8 p.m. Monday. She left that state and the New York metropolitan area the most scarred.

Five were reported dead because of the storm in New York and three in New Jersey. Pennsylvania also reported three deaths and two have been recorded so far in Connecticut.

The hurricane's back end continued to hover over the East Coast Tuesday morning, dropping more rain onto ground already saturated by the five to eight inches of rain that has fallen in the past 48 hours across Central Maryland.

A flood warning remains effect until Tuesday afternoon for nearly the whole state. As the rains continue to fall, creeks and streams were expected to begin rising, according to Kevin Witt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Flooding in major rivers will peak on Wednesday, he added, with the Potomac expected to crest at 30 feet — nearly twice its normal level. Witt also said severe rains and winds would last through Tuesday but would likely taper toward normal by late morning Wednesday. Wind advisories were still in effect Tuesday morning for much of the state as well.

A blizzard warning is active until early this evening for all of Garrett County and half of Allegany County, as far east as Cumberland. Total snow accumulations in higher elevations may be has great as two feet, according to the National Weather Service. Four-to-eight inches are expected today.

Baltimore road restrictions will remain in effect until noon, as water levels could continue to rise and streets in low-lying areas remain flooded.

Water is overflowing from the harbor into parts of Fells Point but flooding appears to be far from the damage done by Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003.

"This really wasn't that bad at all," said Fells Point resident Mike McDaniel, who was walking his dog Tuesday morning. After Hurricane Isabel, he said, he believes people became more aware of the potential dangers and took extra precautions. The city began distributing sandbags to residents several days ago.

McDaniel felt the storm was not as bad as anticipated for the area, noting minor flooding along South Wolfe Street, between Thames and Aliceanna streets. He said his home was not damaged during the storm.

Nearly 200 trees have fallen throughout the city; about half are in streets, according to Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has received reports of about 200 downed power lines in the city. Forty-seven traffic intersections in Baltimore are out, though most are now being supplied by generators. Only 17 intersections were dark at around 7:00 a.m., O'Doherty said.

Rawlings-Blake has decided to ask people to stay off Baltimore's roads until noon so that emergency and electrical repair crews can reach trouble spots, O'Doherty said.

Although early reports make it appear that Baltimore has escaped the worst, reports of damage, downed trees and dangerous wires are likely to increase as the city's residents awaken and assess their yards and streets, he cautioned.

"Public safety is priority number one," said O'Doherty. Residents should report downed trees to 311 and downed power lines to BGE, he said. BGE is encouraging all customers whose power goes out — even customers with Smart Meters — to call 877-778-2222 to report the outage.

Personnel from the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management were "pre-staged" across the city to assist as calls came in to 311 and 911, backed by 15 emergency officials visiting from Indiana.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said her cell phone is fully charged, but she hasn't been inundated with calls from those in the city's North Central 14th district.

"I don't have a lot of input right now," she said. "I take that as a very good sign."

Clarke added that she's thankful that Baltimore seemed largely spared: "It's a true, true blessing. I think we all prayed."

Second District Councilman Brandon M. Scott agreed. "We dodged it," Scott said. "You can let out a breath." Sandy's impact was only a fraction of the effect of this summer's derecho that blackened every traffic light on Bel Air Road throughout the 2nd District.

Baltimore's Department of Public Works has suspended trash and recycling collection Tuesday. Makeup days will be scheduled after the storm, the department said. The department will focus on debris removal Tuesday and street sweeping will not be conducted.

The city's morning road-use restriction does not apply to public safety officers or hospital employees and other medical providers. Businesspeople who have pre-registered with the Corporate Emergency Access System, a credentialing system that the city uses in emergencies, are allowed on the streets so that their companies can continue to offer continuous service, he said.

Though no other local governments have instituted driving bans, other counties were asking people to stay off the roads while emergency crews got to work.

"Unless absolutely essential, please stay off the roads a little longer as utilities, roads department and

emergency crews get their first daylight look at things and start the recovery," said Mike Dixon, a spokesman for the Cecil County Department of Emergency Services.

About 192,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers without power just before 7 a.m., about 49,00 of those customers are in Baltimore. Anne Arundel had the most outages in the region — about 56,000, about a quarter of the county's homes. Still, that was fewer than officials expected and under the number of outages caused by Hurricane Irene last year.

"Anne Arundel County is typically in the cross-hairs," Leopold said Tuesday morning. "We have more than 500 miles of shoreline and our low- lying areas are always susceptible. But we didn't take as big a hit as other jurisdictions."

Utility officials have said that this round of power outages could throw life out of kilter for tens of thousands over the next several days, if not longer. About 2,000 out-of-state workers are currently working with BGE to restore power, BGE officials said. Another 1,000 are expected later today.

The utility is conducting a damage assessment today and is not expected to make predictions before Wednesday about when power will be restored to all customers.

Most schools, government offices and businesses remain closed Tuesday. All flights in and out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport were canceled through Tuesday, as were train, light rail and bus services across the state.

The Bay Bridge was reopened around 9 a.m. Tuesday following a damage assessment by bridge inspectors.

The Tydings Bridge, which carries Interstate 95 over the Susquehanna River, was also reopened Tuesday morning. The Key Bridge and the Hatem Bridge are open, with restrictions on tractor trailers and box trucks, the Maryland Transportation Administration reported.

The Maryland Transit Administration plans to resume limited service after finding little damage on its rail lines. Spokesman Terry Owens says Baltimore's subway will resume operating at noon on Tuesday, along with limited local bus service and mobility paratransit service for disabled riders.

There was no major flooding or damage to the transit system, Owens said. The MTA's light rail system will remain suspended through Tuesday, though, to give crews time to reinstall crossing gates. They were removed as a precaution during the storm to prevent debris from breaking loose in high winds.

MARC trains and commuter bus lines remain closed.

Federal, state and local government offices remained closed for non-essential employees, as were Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground, and while most hospitals remained open for routine business.

Johns Hopkins Hospital announced it was canceling all outpatient appointments Tuesday.

"Sometimes the aftermath of a big storm, when people think it is safe, can be the most dangerous," said Steve Zubrick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "There are downed power lines, weakened trees and remnants of the system to deal with."

The weather system — a rare confluence of a northward-moving tropical front and a low-pressure trough that arrived via the Midwest — was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone when it hit the southern New Jersey coast Monday evening, as Marylanders braced for a night of winds gusting up to 65 miles per hour. Those intense southerly gusts were in part responsible for downing trees with root systems weakened by saturated soil, officials said.

The storm prompted some areas such as Ellicott City and parts of Harford County to begin voluntary evacuations Monday night. Tuesday morning, people in Ellicott City were feeling that they had dodged a bullet.

An estimated 1,200 Marylanders spent the night in 41 shelters.

Outside Maryland, Sandy caused millions of outages. New York in particular coped with heavy flooding after high tide as well as blackouts. As of late Monday night, The Red Cross had 112 shelters open on the East Coast. The Federal Emergency Management Administration had more than 1,500 staff on hand, and thousands of National Guardsmen were deployed to help affected states deal with the storm.

The storm caused its first fatality in Maryland when 66-year-old Mai Ai Lam-Phan of Montgomery County was killed in a head-on collision Monday in Clarksburg. Noting witness reports that there was standing water on the roadway, the Maryland medical examiner said the accident would not have happened were it not for the hurricane, while Montgomery police were more cautious, stating only that the storm might have been a factor.

The Pasadena man who was killed when the tree fell on his home shortly before 11 p.m., in the 7700 block of Suitt Drive, has not been identified by police.

As of 6 a.m., workers were awaiting a crane to remove an 80-foot tree that crashed into the kitchen, killing a 73-year-old man inside, said County Executive John R. Leopold.

Leopold said family members told him the man was a construction engineer.

Flooding, downed wires and fallen trees kept 27 roads closed in Anne Arundel County Tuesday morning, as county workers responded to reports of trees falling into houses. Eleven other Anne Arundel roads were partially closed from storm damage, and officials urged motorists to stay home.

Dozens of roads were closed in Baltimore County because of flooding or downed wires or trees.

In Baltimore, no sewage overflows had been reported. The Jones Falls rise feet above its banks but was receding Tuesday morning, even as rain continued to pour down.

Robert Judge, spokesman for Exelon Power, which operates the Conowingo hydroelectric dam on the lower Susquehanna, said the company does not expect to need to open floodgates to release rain-swollen waters until Tuesday. Based on weather forecasts on Monday, Judge said the dam operators expect to need to open 10 gates in total between Tuesday and Thursday, far fewer than the 43 opened after Tropical Storm Lee drenched the region in September 2011.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Jessica Anderson, Erin Cox, Andrea F. Siegel, Candus Thomson, Julie Scharper, Chris Korman and Jamie Smith Hopkins, contributed to this article. The Associated Press and Patuxent Publishing also contributed.