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Early voting, flights canceled and government offices close as Sandy approaches

ElectionsMartin O'MalleyBarack ObamaPimlico Race CourseAmtrakPort of Baltimore

Gov. Martin O'Malley has canceled Monday's early voting in Maryland due to Hurricane Sandy's expected arrival.

Government offices and schools around the region also have announced that they plan to close Monday, and most flights out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport have been canceled.

More than 200 flights scheduled to land at or leave from BWI Monday had already been canceled as of Sunday evening, according to FlightStats.com. Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the airport, said most carriers had indicated they would cancel all flights Monday and monitor the storm to make a decision about Tuesday and Wednesday. The airport will remain open, he said.

All MTA services will be suspended, and the Port of Baltimore will be closed. Amtrak trains won't run.

Federal offices in the Washington area will be closed. Most non-emergency employees will be granted administrative leave for their scheduled working hours, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

State government offices will be closed, with only essential employees required to report

Harford County government is closed Monday, with only emergency personnel reporting. Baltimore City government offices will be open for essential personnel only. Baltimore City and Howard, Harford, Carroll and Baltimore county schools are closed Monday.

Ocean City officials have ordered a mandatory evacuation of downtown — south of 17th street — by 8 p.m. Sunday night. Residents in low lying areas are under a voluntary evacuation order. Waves are expected to reach heights not seen since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, O'Malley said.

Mayor Rick Meehan declared a state of emergency, closing the beaches until further notices, and said government employees would not be required to work Monday. Buses will continue to run where road conditions allow, transporting those who need to leave the evacuation zone to the Convention Center.

O'Malley said that the smaller population living in Ocean City during the off-season has allowed a smooth flow of traffic heading west. "It's no worse than what you would see on a nice weekend during the summer," he said.

State Police officers are working to coordinate evacuation efforts in Ocean City, and the National Guard has been deployed to locations where problems are expected, O'Malley said.

President Barack Obama called the storm "a serious and big storm" and said that it would present unique challenges because it has moved slowly and could linger and make quick response difficult.

"At this stage, everybody is confident that the staging process, the pre-positioning of resources, commodities, equipment that are going to be needed to respond to this storm are in place," he said. "This hasn't hit landfall yet, so we don't yet know where it's going to hit, where we're going to see the biggest impacts.  And that's exactly why it's so important for us to respond big and respond fast as local information starts coming in."

O'Malley said it will be safest to "hunker down" at home Monday.

"People do not have to be out on the road tomorrow," he said. "People should not be out on the road tomorrow."

As of Sunday night, 23 shelters were preparing to open throughout the state.

Marylanders flocked to early voting sites Saturday and Sunday to beat the storm. Sunday, a long line snaked out of Pimlico Race Course as hundreds waited for their turn.

O'Malley will not make a decision about Tuesday's early voting until later Monday, a spokeswoman said. Early voting sites will be open at least one extra day, Friday, to make up for the cancellation.

The extension could strain local elections boards preparing for the Nov. 6 election day. Armstead B.C. Jones, Sr., the Baltimore Board of Elections director, said pushing early voting beyond Thursday would make it harder to update voting rolls to reflect who had already voted.

"Consideration has to be given to the fact that we need to upload the results and update our information, then get it out to the precincts," he said.

Jones had been preparing to keep at least three of Baltimore's early voting sites open through the storm, but O'Malley made the decision to call off voting for the whole state after declaring a state of emergency.

Hurricane Sandy also may cause logistical problems, Jones said, as he tries to get voting equipment in place. He said voting booths had been loaded onto haulers to be delivered to hundreds of Baltimore schools on Monday, but those schools are now closed.

chris.korman@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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