By Scott Dance, Mary Gail Hare and Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun
5:40 PM EDT, October 29, 2012
As Sandy pounds the mid-Atlantic coast Monday, the Baltimore region is bracing for gale-force winds and flooding.
The 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.
Mandatory travel restrictions will be imposed in Baltimore at 6 p.m. on Monday and stay in effect until noon on Tuesday, banning driving on city streets for everyone but emergency personnel. While city officials don't plan to put up barricades, they warned that drivers could be pulled over by a police officer.
"Our number one priority during the storm period is public safety," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "We need folks to stay off the roads so that our first responders can focus 100 percent on real emergency incidents as they may occur. We are working closely with our hospitals and medical providers to ensure that their employees have safe routes to work."
Gov. Martin O'Malley warned of the danger of the storm Monday. "There will be people who will die and are killed in this storm," the governor said while visiting the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. "Stay off the roads, hunker down with your families."
He said his blunt talk was designed to "truthfully identify this as a killer storm" so people stay off the roads and inside.
"My biggest concern is the potential loss of life," O'Malley continued. "This will be unlike any storm we've had."
O'Malley ordered bridges closed by 2:30 p.m. Monday: the Bay Bridge and the Hatem bridge. He also canceled early voting on Tuesday.
The governor said Sandy's wind gusts saw increases to 90 mph, necessitating the closures.
Ocean City's downtown pier has been heavily damaged overnight, town officials confirmed, as Hurricane Sandy pounds the shores with massive surf.
Town police spokesman Michael Levy said there is extensive damage to the pier, though webcams show some of the structure still standing. Town officials will provide more details at a press conference Monday.
The pier sits at the southern end of the Boardwalk, in the area south of 17th Street under a mandatory evacuation since Sunday afternoon because of flooding.
Wind gusts of up to 50 mph were recorded in the Ocean City inlet near the pier overnight Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Storm surge was expected to reach 8 feet in the height of the storm late Monday into Tuesday, with wind gusts likely to reach hurricane force of at least 75 mph. The storm made landfall in New Jersey at approximately 8 p.m. Monday night.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Monday afternoon that impending weather conditions prompted city government to close for the remainder of the day Monday, and on Tuesday. She said she anticipates having to announce mandatory travel restrictions as the storm grows stronger through the evening.
"Our number one focus continues to be public safety," Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference held at the city's emergency management headquarters on Calvert Street. "We fully expect weather conditions to deteriorate rapidly going into this afternoon and this evening."
Rawlings-Blake urged residents to stay at home, and said that should motorists reach any standing water, they should err on the side of safety.
"We will reach a point in this storm this evening where people will have to stay off the roads completely," she said. "Hunker down at home and ride out this storm."
"Turn around," she added. "Don't drown."
She also warned residents that it was, "extremely likely that tens of thousands of residents will lose power this evening," and that the city would work with BGE to help clear debris and restore power — as long as it wasn't dangerous for workers.
She also assured that the city's emergency personnel were at maximum capacity and able to respond to any incidents, including more than 2,000 police officers who are working overnight, all special operation teams on hand, more than 350 firefighters and paramedics staffing units across the city, and federal resources, including National Guard Humvees that she said were deployed with police and strategically placed throughout the city.
Rawlings-Blake said that she could not anticipate what the worst case scenario would be, but assured that the city was prepared.
"My emergency personnel are very creative, we don't want to get into the worst-case scenario," she said. "This can go in all different types of directions, and wherever it goes, we're prepared."
Traffic on major arteries was light early Monday as motorists apparently heeded warnings to stay off roads as Hurricane Sandy slopped into the region.
"Everything else is shut down, so there's not a lot of cars on the road," John Loftus said during a stop on his commute from Silver Spring to Baltimore, where he'll check on construction sites.
"Now tomorrow, once I know everything is safe, that's when I'll stay home. I think tomorrow's going to be the worst of it."
The combination of an extremely dangerous storm surge and tide will cause coastal flooding of as much as six feet in the lower Chesapeake Bay areas and with as much as four feet farther north. Surge-related flooding can vary given the storm's winds and the tide, forecaster said.
By Tuesday evening, temperatures are expected to drop into the low 40s. Southwest wind gusts will be lower but still at about 40 miles per hour. Showers will continue well into Tuesday night. The storm could also cause an 18-inch snowfall in the mountains of Western Maryland.
One the few things not to worry about Monday: a storm surge slopping water into the Baltimore Harbor.
Jim Lee, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that despite the high tide from the full moon, winds from Hurricane Sandy will create a "blow-out" tide, pushing water out of the harbor as the hurricane slops over land.
But Lee said to expect a surge on Tuesday as Hurricane Sandy's winds shift course.
"As Sandy treks north, then the wind starts coming out of the south, and we're expecting some of that water to blow back in," Lee said.
Sandy, as of Monday afternoon a Category 1 hurricane sandwiched between weather systems steering it toward land, has forced coastal evacuations from the Eastern Shore to New York City.
"They've towed all the cars off the street," said Brett Henry, manger of Henderson's Wharf Inn in Fells Point. "It's pretty much a ghost town, so to speak."
The hotel suffered extensive flood damage from Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. For Hurricane Sandy, the hotel decide to shut its doors completely.
Henry plans to ride out the storm at the hotel, keeping an eye on the rising tide into Monday night and Tuesday, he said.
Schools across the region were closed, governments and trash collection halted, and major public transportation systems shut down in anticipation of a pummeling from Sandy. Harford County schools have announced that they will be closed Tuesday, with code green for employees.
Annapolis closed the harbor at City Dock, suspended all bus service and called off trash collection. As of 10:30 a.m., there had been no reports of flooding in the city, but with water already pooling, officials expect floods as Hurricane Sandy gets closer to land.
Anne Arundel County government will be closed Tuesday, said Dave Abrams, a county spokesman.
County Executive John R. Leopold is answering phones at the county's emergency operations center, he said. Three roads prone to flooding have already been closed: River Road in Crownsville, Governor's Bridge road near Davidsonville and Montevideo Road near Jessup.
The single shelter set up by the county had 27 people and two cats at 1 p.m. Monday, Abrams said. The pet-friendly shelter is at Annapolis High School.
Arundel Mills mall announced it would be closed Monday.
The Annapolis director of emergency management, Kevin J. Simmons, said city police officers are pairing with National Guard with Humvees in order to make patrols Monday. He said the city has also sent out community notifications to residents in low-lying areas urging them to take shelter inland. Annapolis High School is open to residents.
A tree fell on a house in the 400 block of Maple Road West In Linthcum, Anne Arundel county police reported around noon. It took down wires and firefighters helped five people get out of the house, said Division Chief Michael Cox, fire department spokesman No one was injured, he said.
There were about a dozen weather-related problems on Monday, including trees and wires down, and car crashes, none serious, he said.
Robert B. Thomas, Jr., a Harford County spokesman, said Beards Hill Road and Maxa Road in Aberdeen had been closed this morning due to flooding. "We do have some areas of the county where we've had some trees fallen," he said. But no other damage has been reported this morning, he said.
Battalion Chief Eric Proctor with the Howard County fire department said the county remained relatively quiet Monday morning. "We're just bracing. No increase in our call volume yet," he said.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz declared a state of emergency for the county Monday morning. He said in a statement that the county will open an emergency shelter at Eastern Technical High School, 1100 Mace Ave., at 1 p.m. Monday. The shelter is pet-friendly. He also said that trash and recycling pick-ups are suspended from 2 p.m. Monday today through Tuesday.
All remaining flights Tuesday out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport have been canceled, said spokesman Jonathan Dean.
Canceled flights stranded many, including the Normandeau family. They were thousands of miles from home and forced to race north ahead of Sandy.
"When they canceled our flight, they told us we couldn't get out until Thursday," Patricia Normandeau said as she rifled through a rental car's trunk at a rest stop on I-95 south of Baltimore. En route from West Palm Beach, Fla. to outside Portland, Maine, the family keeps checking smartphones in hopes they can make better time than the behemoth storm that's churning north at 15 miles an hour.
"We left at 3 p.m. yesterday, and we've just been taking turns driving," Normandeau said at 7 a.m. Monday. "We only hit rain about two hours ago."
Across the lot, John Esposito rested briefly on his overnight drive from South Carolina to New Jersey, cutting short his vacation to join his son and dogs before the worst of Sandy hits. He hopes to roll into Hazlet, N.J., by mid-morning Monday, when Sandy still feels like a chilly autumn downpour instead of the worst storm to hit the area in 75 years.
"It's been uneventful, so far," Esposito said, adding he plans to keep it that way by racing home early.
"With hurricanes, you just have to learn," he said. "You get a sense of what you can and can't do."
Baltimore Sun reporters Ian Duncan, Luke Broadwater, Steve Kilar, Erica L. Green, Jessica Anderson, Candy Thomson and Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this report.
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