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Schools, government offices closed as Howard County braces for Superstorm Sandy

Hurricanes and Tropical StormsElectionsLocal GovernmentWegmans Food Markets, Inc.

The Howard County Board of Education has closed school for Monday as Hurricane Sandy creeps closer to reaching land on the East Coast.

In addition, the county government announced Sunday it also will be closed Monday for non-essential employees. Among the offices closed are all county Department of Recreation and Parks centers and programs, and the circuit and district courts.

No decision has been made about opening the government on Tuesday.

The school system made the announcement Sunday, adding: "All evening activities in schools, both school-sponsored and community-sponsored, are canceled. This includes high school athletic practices and games."

Meanwhile, County Executive Ken Ulman announced Sunday that the government is scheduled to open a shelter at the Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way, in Columbia, at noon Monday. Space is limited, so those needing shelter are encouraged to bring only essential items.

The Columbia Association, meanwhile, announced Sunday that its Inclement Weather Policy is in effect for Monday, which means there will be no classes or programs before 10:45 a.m. Residents can call CA's inclement weather hotline at 410-715-3154 after 10 a.m. to find out about later classes.

Ulman said Sunday that the Office of Emergency Management is continuing to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Sandy.

“County officials are taking this storm very seriously, and we hope our residents are too. This is an enormous storm that will have tremendous implications for Howard County because the rainfall amounts, high winds and duration of the storm will cause flooding and widespread power outages.  We already know BGE can’t begin to restore those outages until the storm ends and it’s safe to have crews out.  If they haven’t done it already, we are asking residents to spend today getting prepared,” Ulman said in a statement. 

The county announced Sunday that it opened its Call Center (410-313-2900) in the afternoon. Also, the “water buffalo” is now in place at the Gary J. Arthur Community Center in Glenwood, for people who need water.

The National Weather Service said that Howard County should begin to see rain late Sunday afternoon. It will get heavier during the night.  On Monday, predictions call for 25 mph sustained winds increasing throughout the day to 40 mph with gusts of 60 mph or higher. 

Heavy rain and sustained winds will continue through late Tuesday or early Wednesday, according to the weather service.  Temperatures will drop into the 40s.

Emergency officials strongly encourage residents to stay at home and off the roads during the storm.

The slow-moving hurricane is projected to reach land late Monday between the Delmarva Peninsula and northern New Jersey. In the Baltimore area, between 6-8 inches of rain can be expected along the I-95 corridor.

The Howard County Office of Emergency Management is urging county residents and businesses to "be alert, be prepared and stay informed" as Hurricane Sandy will bring heavy rains, high winds, power outages and possible flooding.

Baltimore Gas and Electric is warning that its customers should expect "extended and widespread power outages potentially lasting several days." The power company said Friday it had mobilized local crews and requested some 2,000 out-of-state workers to deal with the potential outages.

Gov. Martin O'Malley declared a state of emergency Friday and warned that it might have an impact on early voting, which began Saturday and is scheduled to continue through Thursday, Nov. 1.

O'Malley later canceled all early voting on Monday.

On Saturday and Sunday, however, lines were long at the three early-voting locations in Howard County — the Bain Center in Columbia; Ellicott City Senior Center in Ellicott City; and Ridgely's Run Community Center in Jessup. Some people reported waiting in line for between one and two hours.

Throughout Howard County, traffic was heavy Saturday as people continued their preparations for Hurricane Sandy.

The Home Depot on Route 40 in Ellicott City was sold out of generators Thursday, said Jenn Livenspargar, special services manager at the store, and was out of flashlights by Saturday morning.

Water and batteries, however, were still in stock, and the store was expecting an emergency shipment of generators, but Livenspargar did not know when they would be arriving.

“It’s been crazy the last couple of days,” she said. “We’ve done normal business, but with the threat of the hurricane, more people are coming.”

One of those people was Lainie Santos Torres, of Columbia, who had purchased bungee cords to secure deck furniture, water and batteries. Her family began preparing for the hurricane Friday, by charging all of the electronics, making sure candles were close at hand and stocking the kitchen with non-perishable food.

“At this point, we’ve had a few more days of anticipation (compared to previous storms),” Santos Torres said. “We know what to do. We’re sticking to the basics.”

Michael Meyerson, 57, of Ellicott City, said he and his wife were planning on going grocery shopping at Wegans in Columbia on Sunday, but decided to go on Saturday because of the hurricane.

“We haven’t really had time to go shopping, and we wanted to go before the stores emptied out,” Meyerson said. “We wanted to beat the rush.”

Meyerson said Wegmans wasn’t any busier than a normal Saturday, and that the shelves remain well stocked.

“I think the store will be more crowded than normal tomorrow (Sunday),” Meyerson said.
 
Severn resident Melisa Ortiz said she had planned to go grocery shopping Saturday and Hurricane Sandy did not change her plans too much.
 
“We just got two cases of bottled water in case the power goes out,” Ortiz said.
  
Laurel residents Anthony and Shari Mcwain, said they shop at Wegmans regularly and that Saturday’s trip was planned before news of Sandy.
 
“We got a couple extra things like toilet tissue and batteries,” Shari said. “We’ll be ready, it’s just weather.”

The county government is "fully engaged in preparations" for the storm, according to County Executive Ken Ulman. On Saturday, Ulman was at the Bain Center in Columbia, which will serve as the "primary shelter location," should it be needed, he said.

Ulman added that shelters will be added throughout the county if they are needed.

The county Office of Emergency Management has been participating in twice-daily conference calls with state and national authorities, and the Office of Public Information is providing frequent updates to county residents through NotifyMeHoward, the county website, Facebook and Twitter.

In flood-prone Ellicott City, merchants and residents are keeping a close eye on the storm's progress, said David Carney, president of the Ellicott City Business Association and owner of the Wine Bin, on Main Street.

"People are starting to take precautions, moving stuff up (from the river) in case of flooding," Carney said. "Right now, it's just a waiting game."

Karen Besson, owner of Art & Artisan, also on Main Street, said she, too, is playing the waiting game.

"I'm monitoring it," she said. "If it looks like we're going to get a direct hit, I'll take action — put merchandise up, get sandbags. But at this point, I'm going to be optimistic."

In a news release, the county government is urging all county residents to take precautions as the storm approaches, including:

• Move lawn furniture indoors and secure trash cans and anything else that is loose outside.

• Prepare for basement flooding by checking your sump pump.

• Clear downspouts and direct them away from your house foundation.

• Make sure all electronic devices, including cell phones, are charged, and your radio has working batteries.

• Have food and medical supplies on hand, in case of power outages.

• If you have a generator, be sure it is outside in a ventilated area.

Reporters Sara Toth and Luke Lavoie contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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