All of Harford County was virtually shut down Monday, as residents braced for the worst of the powerful Hurricane Sandy, which was ever closer to making landfall on the coast between Maryland and New Jersey.
Heavy rain pelted the county overnight Sunday and throughout the day Monday. Increasing sustained wind were also evident in advance of the storm, whose worse impacts are expected from Monday evening through Tuesday, according to the most recent National Weather Service forecasts.
Sandy is expected to make landfall somewhere between the Delmarva Peninsula and southern New Jersey on Monday, according to the weather service.
Flooding, downed trees and utility lines and widespread power outages are expected from the storm. County emergency officials are advising people to stay off the roads and move to higher ground if they live in flood prone areas, especially in downtown Havre de Grace.
As of Monday afternoon, no serious fires, accidents or other incidents had been reported to the county Emergency Operations Center.
At 2 p.m. Monday, the Maryland Transportation Authority closed the Route 40 Hatem Memorial Bridge Maryland because wind speeds there exceeded 55 miles per hour, according to Trudy Edwards, special assistant in the authority's executive office.
Edwards said the bridge will remain closed until winds fall below 55 miles per hour.
The I-95 Tydings bridge was expected to be closed, according to comments made at a widely broadcast midday news conference on the storm by Gov. Martin O'Malley and his staff.
As of 4:30 p.m., the Tydings bridge remained open to traffic, according to staff at the JFK Barrack of The Maryland State Police. The option of closing the bridge remained in play, but no decision had been made as to when that would happen.
Both bridges crossing the Susquehanna River had been placed under wind warnings by MDTA earlier in the day, with wind gusts reaching into the 45-49 mph range, meaning house trailers, empty box trailers or any vehicle that law enforcement personnel felt might not safely cross the bridge were already being prohibited from crossing.
By Monday afternoon, the county still did appear to have any major accidents, Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association spokesman Rich Gardiner said, adding he only heard of some wires on fire.
About 1,000 BGE customers were without power in Harford at that time, county spokesman Bob Thomas reported at about 3 p.m.
As of 11:30 a.m. Monday, Delmarva Power, which provides electricity primarily north of Deer Creek in Harford County, was reporting no outages in Perryville, Port Deposit or northern Harford County.
"Concern now is about rising water in Havre de Grace which is expected Tuesday morning," Thomas said. "Approximately five roads closed due to downed trees or rising water."
"County Executive Craig came to the EOC [Emergency Operations Center] before noon for a briefing and then toured several locations in the county including stops at both emergency shelters, Patterson Mill High School and Level Volunteer Fire Company," he said.
Susquehanna Hose Company Chief Scott Hurst said the company had yet to receive any storm related calls as of about 3:50 p.m.
He said Havre de Grace had already gotten 5 to 6 inches of rain, of the 9 to 12 expected, and the only major concern was, as always, the Lilly Run areas.
"There is starting to be some flooding in Havre de Grace," he said.
The forecast at the time called for 45 mile per hour winds with gusts of 90 miles per hour, and Hurst expected the storm to get really bad at about 5:30 p.m.
Schools, government, APG closed
Harford County Public Schools, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Harford Community College, Harford County government offices are closed Monday, as are the municipal governments of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace and the Circuit and District courts in Bel Air.
All of the above will be closed Tuesday, Harford County Executive David Craig announced shortly before 10:30 a.m. Monday.
"The Aberdeen Proving Ground has advised they too will be closed on Tuesday," Craig said in a news release.
"The worst of the storm will most likely impact Harford County during the next 24 hours, therefore we are closing government with exception of emergency and critical personnel as we work to mitigate this serious threat to public safety," Craig said.
As was the case Monday, the school system said its employees will be on Code Green Tuesday.
There is no Harford Transit Service Monday or Tuesday, and public libraries, senior and community centers and the county waste disposal center will likewise be closed both days.
Early voting was canceled Monday at the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air, and the State Board of Elections announced Monday afternoon that early voting would also be canceled Tuesday. Early voting was to be extended through Friday.
State of Emergency
The county and state remain under a State of Emergency. A federal State of Emergency covering Maryland and several other states has been declared by President Obama.
On Sunday, county government officials advised residents of low lying areas of Havre de Grace and other parts of the county to consider voluntarily evacuation of their homes.
A public shelter was opened Sunday evening at Patterson Mill High School in Bel Air for people needing temporary housing and will remain open during the storm.
Thomas, the county government spokesman, said three people were housed at the storm shelter at Patterson Mill High School overnight. "That number is expected to increase," he added.
County emergency officials briefed County Executive Craig and his staff at 7:30 a.m. Monday on the storm and local emergency preparedness efforts.
Havre de Grace
Havre de Grace had closed off entrances to parks and several small streets, such as Girard Street near the Susquehanna River, even though flooding seemed minimal on those streets.
Many convenience stores and supermarkets stayed open at least during the first half of the day.
Places like Weis Market, on Route 40, had a steady stream of customers around 1 p.m. and showed no sign of running out of hurricane essentials like bread or canned goods.
An employee said the store planned to stay open for the remainder of the day.
Bel Air prepares
The Town of Bel Air offices were closed Monday, but many people were in town hall where Bel Air's emergency operations center is set up.
Town Administrator Chris Schlehr said half of the town's public works crew would be covering the day and the other half would cover the night.
"We expect tonight for them to be gainfully employed because of all the wind and anticipating all the damage," Schlehr said Monday morning.
He reported no problems to that point, "just a lot of water."
"Everything's wet and soggy, but nothing is flooding yet," Schlehr added.
ShopRite closing stores early
Mike Blum, spokesman for Klein's ShopRite, received notice shortly before noon that all the company's stores would close at 2 p.m. Monday.
"ShopRite was very proactive," Blum said about preparing for customer demand. "ShopRite had had extra shipments of things people want. Arriving Saturday and Sunday were more water, ice, bread, milk, toilet paper and batteries."
This was the case were ShopRite stores up and down the East Coast, he said.
The Town of Perryville's website has posted links to a hurricane preparedness plan, as well as how to report power outages to Delmarva.
Perryville Mayor Jim Eberhardt said everything was going smoothly Monday morning in preparing for the storm. The town government is closed except for essential personnel.
Public works crews have been put on 24 hours shifts, 12 hours each, Eberhardt said, beginning at midnight and the boat ramp had been pulled out.
"We got ready, made sure we had plenty of diesel fuel for generators and vehicles are equipped," Eberhardt said. "We coordinated with the fire company, parks [and recreation] and made sure all storm drains were clean."
Eberhardt noted that Cecil County's emergency shelter opened Sunday night at Rising Sun High School.
Trick-or-treating in the town has also been moved to Friday, he said, in anticipation there will be power outages and other lingering problems from the storm Wednesday.
"The biggest concern is there may not be electricity and kids would be walking around in the dark," Eberhardt said. "We don't know what Wednesday is going to be like."
Rising river concerns
Around 11a.m. Monday, the Perryville mayor reported wind picking up and the rain coming down steadily, but nothing too bad.
The town's biggest concern, however, is the effect the storm will have on the Susquehanna River in four or five days.
"We may have localized flood spots in areas," Eberhardt said. "That darn storm looks like it's going right up the basin right up to New York." The river won't crest until several days from now, he noted.
Port Deposit's mayor Wayne Tome made the same observation about the river not being an issue until later in the week when the storm is gone.
On Monday morning, Tome said everyone in town still had their power and the weather was "no big deal" yet.
"We're just waiting to see what happens this afternoon," he said. "We're encouraging people to stay inside."
Shortly before 4 p.m., both Eberhardt and Tome reported no serious issues.
"We're still hunkered down," Eberhardt said. "Everything's going really good."
Tome, however, was concerned about traffic coming through the town since the Hatem and Tydings bridges were closed.
"We're hoping we don't get traffic through here from people going through the dam," he said. "We're monitoring everything."
The Baltimore area remains under a flood watch through Tuesday evening, with coastal flooding expected late Monday into Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy rain, as much as six inches, and high winds, with gusts as much as 70 miles per hour, will occur throughout Monday afternoon and well into Tuesday, according to forecasters.
At 8 a.m. Monday, Hurricane Sandy was positioned off the North Carolina coast and continuing on a northwest track. The storm is expected to bring a life-threatening storm surge and coastal hurricane winds and heavy Appalachian snows, said forecasters.
As of 10:30 a.m. the National Weather Service was forecasting sustained winds throughout the day at 30 to 50 miles per hour in Harford County and gusts 60 to 70 miles per hours from late Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning.
Rainfall is expected to be between 5 to 10 inches across the area and continue through Tuesday morning.
Near the Chesapeake Bay, winds were clocking in between 30 and 40 miles per hour and, while there were no official reports on rainfall amounts, it was estimated that close to two inches had fallen already.
Reports from meteorologists at Aberdeen Proving Ground were unavailable as the installation is closed for the day.
Check back with http://www.exploreharford.com for updates.