Superstorm Sandy made a strong first impression

It didn't take long for Hurricane Sandy to make an impression on Catonsville resident Doug Simpkins, a captain with the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department.

He had just gotten home after stopping by the department on Southwestern Boulevard on Monday morning to make sure the station was stocked with plenty of food when he heard the department had cleared a residential fire a few blocks away.

A sump pump had burned up in a home on Shady Nook Court, he said, and with the worst of the storm still to come, there was not much he could do to comfort the resident.

He suggested a trip to Lowe's or Home Depot, but he knew there was little left on the shelves of the local huge home improvement stores.

His department, however, was as prepared as it could be.

Members had committed to staff an engine crew, squad crew, two medical crews and two swift water rescue crews at the station for the next 48 hours, he said on Oct. 29.

"We just have to be prepared. Our people are trained and ready to roll," he said.

"I have a great group who have made that commitment," said Simpkins, on having the 20-25 members on hand to staff the station.

"We're standing by, waiting for the county or any other jurisdiction that needs us," he said.

A few miles away from the station, the Charlestown retirement community on Maiden Choice Lane had settled in for the storm.

Officials at the community began planning last week, informing residents of how to prepare for the storm, activating emergency resources and working with vendors to ensure sufficient supplies of food for residents and staff and fuel for back-up generators.

Preparation and communication are key, said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk on Monday afternoon.

"I think the good thing about this hurricane, if there is anything good about something like this, is that there was plenty of time to prepare for it," he said.

"The important thing is, everybody should look out for each other. Neighbors should keep an eye out for their neighbors," said Quirk, in his first term representing the Arbutus and Catonsville areas.

Two local nonprofits whose mission is to help the less fortunate in the area were closed Monday and Tuesday due to the hurricane.

John Monck, executive director of the Catonsville Emergency Food Ministries, said his organization would reopen at its Newburg Avenue location on Oct. 31.

In addition to not being able to hand out food and household necessities, closing earlier this week also meant not being able to accept donations scheduled to be dropped off Monday and Tuesday, he said.

Monck spent Monday moving supplies of frozen foods from upright units into chest-high freezers, to keep them cold should the widespread power outages predicted for the state take place.

"Last year, when the power was out for two, two and a half days, we did not lose many frozen items," he said. "We'll just hope for the best."

Southwest Emergency Services also closed Monday and Tuesday as the Arbutus nonprofit follows the schedule of Baltimore County Public Schools.

But on Oct. 26, group volunteers were busy handing out emergency food supplies to those stopping by the facility on Shelbourne Road.

Many people received enough boxed and canned foods to last them three days, with the quantity based on the size of the family in need.

The organization had enough supplies this time, said Lynda Paxton, a longtime volunteer with the group who said those in need should check with the SWES hot line (410-247-8154)..

"Once you get into autumn, we have groups collecting (supplies) for us," she said.

"In very cold weather, people panic about not having enough (heating) oil," she said. "But we're not there, yet."

The storm will wreak havoc on the efforts by volunteers with Catonsville Rails to Trails, according to Tom Ajluni, president of the group.

"It will be a setback for us. We worked so hard over the last year and in the last few months, have gotten the trail in great shape," said Ajluni on the cleanup and maintenance work on the Short Line Trail.

"Undoubtedly, there will be trees down, large trees, and that's typically a problem for us," he said Monday afternoon. "And I anticipated a few areas will have a significant amount of erosion damage.

"I don't expect the trail to be walkable for a while, until we can get back in there and clear it all up," he said.

He urged volunteers to go to the group's website ( if they wanted to help.

For Lansdowne resident Theresa Lowry, downed trees have been a threat to her home on Hammonds Ferry Road for most of the 51 years she has lived there.

"I've lost power during every single storm we've had," she said.

She said trees in her neighborhood were cut about a month ago.

"Crews came through and just slaughtered the trees," she said.

But water coming into her basement remains a concern, even after lining the side of her house with sandbags. The cellar was already filling Monday afternoon.

"It's an old house, 100 years," she said. "There are a lot of holes and water finds its way in.

"If it gets really bad, we'll just get in the car and go," she said. "I have his (her husband's) meds, my meds, the suitcases packed. I'm just going to go."

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