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Superstorm Sandy mostly spares Maryland as it moves up coast

UPDATES:

• Baltimore County Police are monitoring the bridge carrying Belair Road over the Gunpowder River, north of Perry Hall and south of Kingsville, as the bridge's culverts have been jammed with large amounts of debris. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency has also been alerted.

•There will be full service on all MARC train lines on Wednesday, though delays may occur due to signal problems and flood-related speed restrictions, the Maryland Transit Administration said.

• Two Howard County women sent to Maryland Shock Trauma Center for carbon monoxide poisoning related to the use of a gas-powered generator had been released from the hospital as of Tuesday evening. A man who was also poisoned remained hospitalized.

• Power has been restored to Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant in Howard County. The county's water supply is safe to drink, officials said.

• Baltimore's driving restriction was lifted at noon. Parking restrictions in Fells point have been lifted except for streets closed due to flooding.

• Baltimore city government will open Wednesday, operating on normal schedules.

• The Charm City Circulator will resume service Wednesday.

• Early voting will resume Wednesday with extended hours, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

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

• Most Amtrak service remains suspended Tuesday. Amtrak officials will decided late Tuesday whether service will be restored on Wednesday north and south of New York.

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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 early Tuesday, though three people in Howard County were hospitalized following carbon monoxide poisoning related to the use of a gas-powered generator.

"We were very, very fortunate to be on the kinder end of this very violent storm," Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday from Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown. "But that does not take anything away from the Herculean efforts of cooperation and collaboration that I see all throughout the state."

"We were prepared for the worst," the governor said. "We were spared having to endure the worst."

O'Malley described Maryland's Sandy-related deaths as a "tragic loss of life," but noted they were "far fewer than what our neighbors had to endure."

Sandy — downgraded from hurricane status just before it made landfall — reached Atlantic City, N.J. at about 8 p.m. Monday. The storm 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, dropping more rain onto ground already saturated by the five to eight inches of rain that has fallen in the past 48 hours. The storm pushed into the Midwest and New England, blanketing Michigan and Vermont with wind warnings. Much of Maine was under a flood watch.

"We all dodged a bullet on this one," Anne Arundel County Fire Battalion Chief Steve Thompson said Tuesday from the county's emergency operations center. "If that storm would have wiggled a little bit south, with those winds, it would have been a doozie."

A flood warning remains effect until Tuesday afternoon for nearly all of Maryland. As the rains continued 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.

"This really wasn't that bad at all," said Fells Point resident Mike McDaniel, who was walking his dog Tuesday morning. After Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003, which hit Baltimore's lowlands hard, residents became more aware of potential storms dangers and took extra precautions this time, McDaniel said. 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.

"This was a serious storm," she Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a news conference Tuesday morning. "Our police, fire, EMS were all out in full force last night and we responded to every single 911 call and our police were highly visible," throughout the city, she said.

Rawlings-Blake said that there emergency incidents were easier to control overnight in part because of a road-use restriction that was instituted Monday at 6 p.m. and lifted at noon Tuesday.

At least 230 trees have fallen throughout the city; about half are in streets. The city has 35 crews out working to remove them, the mayor said. Among the trees that topped into roadways was a Osage Orange tree along Greenspring Avenue that was estimated to be at least 400 years old, according to the Friends of Druid Hill Park.

About 138,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers without power at 5 p.m. Tuesday, about 12,000 of those customers are in Baltimore. Baltimore County had the most outages in the region — about 41,900. Still, that was fewer than officials expected and under the number of outages caused by Hurricane Irene last year.

Rawlings-Blake had asked to ask people to stay off Baltimore's roads until noon so that emergency and electrical repair crews could reach trouble spots, said Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake.

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 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 and rescheduled it for Saturday. 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 184,500 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers without power at 1 p.m. Tuesday, about 15,400 of those customers are in Baltimore. Anne Arundel had the most outages in the region — about 51,200, 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," County Executive John R. 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."

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said the county fared well. Three people were transported to Shock-Trauma overnight — one of them in critical condition — with carbon monoxide poisoning after they attempted to run an electric generator inside their North Laurel home, he said.

A sewage spill in Savage was continuing to dump 2 million gallons a hour of untreated waste water into the Little Patuxent River, Ulman said about 10 a.m. The county executive said BGE was notified about 11 p.m. Monday night when the failure of a feeder cut off power to the plant. But he said a team from the utility didn't reach the scene until about 6:20 a.m.

"I need to know what the conditions were that prevented them from sending out a response team," said Ulman, who added he will seek a full audit of BGE's performance. Despite the spill, Ulman reassured county residents that their drinking water is safe and doesn't require boiling.

Ulman said about 14 roads had been closed because of downed trees and power lines but most remained clear. The county executive said he hopes that Howard schools can reopen Wednesday. He said about 10 percent of county residents lost power.

Utility officials have said that this round of power outages could throw life off 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. At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, officials are anticipating extensive flight cancellations Tuesday.

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 will also open Wednesday, though delays may occur due to signal problems and flood-related speed restrictions. Most Amtrak service in the northeast remains suspended Tuesday. Amtrak will decide late Tuesday whether limited service north and south of New York will be resume on Wednesday.

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.

Early voting is set to resume Wednesday, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley. Hours will be extended, he said.

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.

In Pasadena, Donald Charles Cannata, 74, was killed when the tree fell on his home in the 7700 block of Suitt Drive around 11 p.m., Anne Arundel County Police said.

Flooding, downed wires and fallen trees kept 23 roads closed in Anne Arundel County Tuesday afternoon. Several other were partially closed 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 began to recede 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 would be opening up to four crest gates Tuesday afternoon and projected as many as ten may be opened later this week, far fewer than the 43 opened after Tropical Storm Lee drenched the region in September 2011.

Though much of the state was spared by the storm, the governor said some small towns were hit particularly hard. He said Havre de Grace — which was partially evacuated — and Crisfield suffered significant flooding.

"That's going to be a long haul," O'Malley said of restoring Crisfield. "Some people may not be able to return to their homes."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Kevin Rector, Alison Knezevich, Luke Broadwater, Timothy B. Wheeler, Michael Dresser, Yvonne Wenger, Jessica Anderson, Erin Cox, Andrea F. Siegel, Candy Thomson, Julie Scharper, Chris Korman and Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article. The Associated Press and Patuxent Publishing also contributed.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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