Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Friday reiterated the call for citizens to take every necessary precaution in advance of Hurricane Irene, which is schedule to reach Maryland on Saturday evening.
The executive even sent out an automated call to more than 7,000 households in Baltimore County's coastal communities — the county has more than 200 miles of waterfront — urging them to take shelter with relatives and friends prior to the potential arrival of Hurricane Irene.
"Obviously, we don't know the extent of the storm at this stage," said Kamenetz at a press conference with emergency personnel in the Emergency Operations Center, in Towson.
"It's only early predictions," he said, "but our game plan is to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. "
Kamenetz advised residents to follow the county's emergency page on Twitter (@BACOemergency) and on the county website, and reminded them to call 911 in the case of emergencies. He said emergency personnel would also assist in the event of an evacuation.
At the press conference, Director of Emergency Management Mark Hubbard said the Emergency Operations Center will be activated at noon on Saturday, and will be open for the duration of the storm.
A shelter will also be opened at Eastern Technical High School, 1100 Mace Ave., Essex, beginning at noon Saturday, though Hubbard urged those who feel the need to evacuate to first seek shelter with friends and family members.
Police Chief Jim Johnson asked all motorists not to operate motor vehicles during the storm, but if necessary, said they should not try to drive through standing water. He also urged residents to use caution when the storm is over, as traffic signals may remain broken even after it ends.
Director of Public Works Ed Adams said his crews were out all day clearing storm drains in advance of the storm.
He added that trucks are fueled and chain saws ready for clearing fallen trees.
BGE says its as ready as can be
Rob Gould, vice president of BGE, said the utility company is prepared for the weather.
"I think we're in a good place, as far as we can be at this point, preparing for what we expect to be a very serious storm," Gould said. "We're taking this very seriously."
Gould said 850 external linemen, tree crews, and support staff had arrived to aid their response, with another 150 workers secured today and en route to the area in time for the storm.
The company expects as many as 500,000 customer outages, which is less than the 790,000 outages caused by Tropical Storm Isabel.
Should there be mass power outages, emergency services, pumping stations and water treatment plants will be the first locations whose power is restored, followed by the largest blocks of customers affected, followed by individual homes.
If the power goes out, "Customers can expect to be out of service for several days, make no mistake about it," Gould said.
Hurricane parties … but batteries not included
Around the county, residents found their own ways to prepare for Irene's arrival:
On Thursday evening, customers were stripping the shelves of the Ayd Hardware Store in the 6700 block of York Road in Rodgers Forge, of flashlights and batteries.
A sales clerk, when asked, said the most popular items in demands were flashlights and batteries and they had been restocking shelves with these items throughout the day.
The store was also down to one bottle of lamp oil and were sold out of kerosene lamps.
For whatever reason, locks with dial combinations, were also in brisk demand, the clerk said.
Long lines of shoppers were in the check out lanes of the Giant food store in Anneslie, filling up carts full of groceries in preparation for the impending storm.
Ken Bullen, manager of Graul's Market in Hereford, said Friday that the store had no more flashlights or batteries left, but was fully stocked on essentials like water, bread and milk.
Many people stopped at the Hereford Exxon to top off their tanks, said station owner Patrick Meadowcroft. He was scheduled to receive two loads of gas today to help meet the high demand.
"There are quite a bit of gas cans here today. Some are for generators, I guess, but some are for lawn mowers," he said. "Today might be the last day to mow your lawn for a few days."
And since North County doesn't appear to be in danger of a direct hit, people are throwing Hurricane parties, said Karen Troxel, owner of Troyer's Liquors in Hereford.
"We've had a busy morning. The older people are more worried, but the younger people are excited," she said. "I've heard of at least five hurricane parties."
At the Home Depot in Cockeysville, not only were the batteries gone — but so were the generators.
A store clerk said they sold 20 early this morning, and then drove to Bel Air to pick up 32 more.
All are gone by a little after noon.
"They're like candy around here," he said, directing a reporter to the nearly empty battery display.
Feet on the Street, but none from Ocean City
At 4:15 Friday evening, the Towson Chamber of Commerce was setting up for its weekly Feet on the Street block party on Allegheny Avenue, full speed ahead.
"It's the nicest evening we've had in six weeks, and we expect this to be one of the best nights of the season," said chamber executive director Nancy Hafford.
"This week's band is New Romance," she said. "People know they're going to be shut in all weekend and I think they'll come out."
The chamber wanted to extend an invitation to the party to the 600 international students being temporarily housed at Towson University to keep them out of harm's way. They had been bussed from Ocean City and Salisbury, where they had been working for the summer.
But the Maryland Emergency Management Association, which arranged their transportation, declined the invitation on their behalf.
"MEMA is not allowing the kids to leave the campus," Hafford said. "That's a shame, because it would have been great for our restaurants. The kids are all over 18 and there's no threat of bad weather until after the concert."
However, the Friday night block parties, which run from 6 to 9:30 p.m., are not typically a big for thing for college students, Hafford said.
"By the time they come out, we're all in bed."
Will Irene go against the grain?
White Hall grain farmer Jay McGinnis is stoic about Hurricane Irene's approach. He can't anticipate whether Irene's winds will wreak havoc on 600 acres of corn he has planted throughout northern Baltimore and Harford counties.
Strong winds can knock the stalks over, making harvesting difficult … but not impossible.
"There's nothing I can do now but wait and see how bad it gets," he said. He estimates his tractor moves less than a half mile per hour to harvest flattened corn, compared with 4 or 5 miles per hour to harvest standing corn stalks.
His father, Wayne McGinnis, said Irene comes in between harvesting seasons, noting that silo corn has already been harvested and field corn and soybeans aren't ready yet.
Loni Ingraham of the Towson Times, Pat van den Beemt of North County News and Fred Rasmussen and Michelle Deal-Zimmerman of the Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.