Harford County government continued to ramp up its preparations for Hurricane Sandy on Sunday, advising residents of low lying areas of the city of Havre de Grace to consider evacuating their homes in anticipation of the tropical storm's landfall in the region, now expected sometime Monday.
The county also announced a public shelter will be open to provide temporary housing starting at 7 p.m. Sunday at Patterson Mill High School, 85 Patterson Mill Road, in Bel Air.
Harford County Public Schools announced schools will be closed Monday. Employees will operate on Code Green. Cecil County Public Schools likewise will be closed Monday.
Harford County government buildings and offices also will be closed Monday, as will public libraries. Harford transit will not operate Monday, and the Harford Waste Disposal Center will be closed.
"Emergency and critical employees only should report," county government spokesman Bob Thomas said in an e-mail. "A decision on whether county government will be opening Tuesday will be made late Monday afternoon."
The state board of elections also canceled early voting for Monday. Harford elections officials said they would be notified later about Tuesday.
The municipal governments of the City of Aberdeen, the Town of Bel Air and the City of Havre de Grace also have advised Harford County officials they will be closed Monday. Any decision regarding opening of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace municipal governments will be announced late Monday.
The county remains under a state of emergency declared Friday afternoon by County Executive David Craig.
Craig went the county Emergency Operations Center near Bel Air around 2 p.m. Sunday to record a message about the storm for the county's phone notification system, Thomas said. He also received briefings from the county emergency operations manager, as did other county agency heads and representatives of the sheriff's office.
Citizens with routine concerns or inquiries as a result of Hurricane Sandy may call the Harford County "Hot-Line" at 410-838-5800. Citizens with true emergencies are urged to call 9-1-1.
Sunday afternoon, the greater Bel Air area began to experience steady rain and, around 5 p.m., the wind had started to blow more steadily compared to earlier in the day.
Much more severe weather is expected across the county and the region.
According to forecasts updated Sunday morning, the tropical storm's outer bands could begin buffeting Baltimore and the Eastern Shore as early as Sunday evening with drenching downpours and strong gusts.
The storm's worst is expected Monday, likely wreaking havoc on the morning commute before Sandy makes landfall somewhere between the Delmarva Peninsula and northern New Jersey in the afternoon or evening.
The Harford County Division of Emergency Operations implemented Level 3 activation in preparation for Sandy at noon Sunday, according to a county media advisory.
"Level 3 activation is a full activation of the EOC on a 24-hour basis," the advisory states.
"In preparation for the impending storm, the county Division of Emergency Operations, in cooperation with City of Havre de Grace officials and the Harford County fire and emergency services, are advising citizens of Havre de Grace, to consider evacuating from their homes ahead of the storm," the advisory continued.
"The voluntary self-evacuation is for those citizens who live near or reside in areas that are prone to flooding."
"We believe Hurricane Sandy is unlike previous storms that have impacted Harford County," Craig said. "Most of the storms we have dealt with are fast moving storms and therefore pass through the area rather quickly. Hurricane Sandy poses a serious threat to our community with long-lasting rain, winds and flooding. The storm could result in power outages throughout Harford County that may last for several days" County Executive Craig remarked.
"The EOC has been activated as part of our emergency preparedness and response to Hurricane Sandy, said Russell J. Strickland, manager of the Division of Emergency Operations. "The EOC, under the direction of Emergency Manager Rick Ayers, will be staffed by personnel from various departments of county and municipal government as well as the State of Maryland. Our team is well trained and prepared to deal with severe weather events such as what we are anticipating from Hurricane Sandy."
Gov. Martin O'Malley also declared a statewide State of Emergency Friday.
Sunday morning, Harford residents continued to make their own preparations for the anticipated storm siege, mostly by stocking up on food essentials and buying gasoline for their vehicles.
Around 10 a.m., the Klein's ShopRite supermarket in Forest Hill was crowded, with lines at all the checkouts and store staff scurrying about.
Most of those in line had some bottled water in their shopping carts, as many pre-storm advisories have warned power outages could knock out public water distribution systems, as well as private wells.
"We sold 650 gallons [of bottled water] in less than a hour yesterday," a ShopRite employee, who was restocking part of the water shelves, said. As it was, only a few gallon containers remained, although the store had some 2.5 gallon containers and plenty of smaller ones.
Sunday afternoon, at the Redner's Market in the Hickory area north of Bel Air, most of the shelves used to stock bottled water were bare, and very few bottles remained on the ones that weren't.
Also in scarce supply at many stores in the Bel Air area were size D batteries, the most common used in conventional flashlights and portable radios.
After Craig put the county under a State of Emergency Friday afternoon, the Harford County Division of Emergency Operations also partially activated in preparation for the arrival of Sandy.
By Saturday afternoon, all departments and agencies of Harford County government had been involved in briefings and planning for the impending storm, the county said in a media advisory issued that day.
The Department of Public Works Division of Highways began preparations on Thursday, the advisory said. Harford County volunteer fire and emergency medical personnel, as well as local, county and state law enforcement officials also initiated preparations.
Among the specialized units prepared for the storm are the Technical Rescue Team, the Swift Water Rescue Team and the Hazardous Materials Response Team, the county said.
Using its Twitter feed Saturday afternoon, the Harford County Fire and EMS Association advised residents that local fire companies would not be pumping basements out during or after the storm.
"We hope everyone has been heeding the warnings issued on Sandy and taking appropriate actions," the fire and EMS association public information officers tweeted about 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The two electric companies serving Harford, BGE and Delmarva, say they have emergency personnel on standby in anticipation there will be widespread power outages form the storm.
Bearing down on U.S.
Sandy closed in on the United States on Saturday morning, threatening the eastern third of the country with heavy rains, high winds, major flooding and power outages.
Though meteorologists still differ on when and where the storm will make landfall in the Northeast, most agree it will happen sometime Monday and will bring destructive rains and winds, possibly compounded by the tidal stage of the moon, which will be at its fullest on Monday.
The National Weather Service Saturday issued a flood watch for central and eastern parts of Maryland, with Sandy expected to make landfall somewhere between the Delmarva peninsula and northern New Jersey. That could bring 3-5 inches of rain to the Interstate 95 corridor in Maryland, according to the weather service.
The Baltimore metro area should see heavy rain and winds from the storm late Sunday or early Monday, a NWS official in Hatteras, N.C., told the Baltimore Sun Weather Blog Saturday afternoon. By late Monday night, the storm would be traveling over Ocean City, if it follows its current track.
The projected track from the National Hurricane Center has been moving throughout the day, but has shifted back toward Maryland, according to the weather blog.
Earlier in the day, it had appeared to be heading slightly north in the direction of the Delaware Bay. The storm is forecast to weaken to a tropical storm again but regain hurricane strength early Monday before making landfall.
Flurry of activity in Bel Air Friday
Aside from the low, dark gray clouds that seemed to be locked into sky since the early Thursday, downtown Bel Air looked like it does on any typical Friday afternoon, as Harford County and the rest of the Baltimore metro region awaited the approach of Hurricane Sandy from the south.
There were a few noticeable differences, however, in the pace of life in the Harford County seat.
At the Target on Route 24, store manager Tony Battaglia said people were acting like they do when a big snowstorm is coming.
He said the store had been busy all day Friday, with people buying things like milk, water, flashlights, batteries and other emergency supplies.
"People are basically shopping the store the way they would for a major snowstorm," Battaglia said. "Water's really been a significant thing."
"The [Target] executive team has done a really nice job of reaching out to our vendors and doubling up orders," he continued. "[People] are really shopping, as if their power is going to go out."
Battaglia said it looked as though the people who typically shop Sunday or Monday were doing it Friday and Saturday because of the storm warning, including people who may have waited until Monday or Tuesday to do their last minute Halloween shopping
At the ShopRite gas 'n' go at the split of North Bond and North Main streets, motorists were experiencing a short wait to get to the gas pumps, and there was a steady stream of vehicles coming in and out of the station.
A half a block north at the Klein's ShopRite Supermarket, most of the parking spaces were full, and the store appeared to be more crowded than usual for midday busy.
"We've been very busy," said an employee who was taking a break. "I don't think we've seen the worst of it, either. Wait to people start going home from work."
On his way home after taking care of the lunchtime crowd at his two downtown restaurants, Renato Bountempo said he hadn't seen a noticeable drop in business.
"It's a little scary," he said of all the reports that Sandy could be a high damage storm.
County gets prepared
As with the rest of the Baltimore metro area, Harford has put emergency operations personnel on alert and announced the county Emergency Operations Center near Bel Air "will be activated throughout the duration of the storm emergency," county government spokesman Bob Thomas said Friday.
A county news release said the Harford emergency preparedness actions are being coordinated through the Division of Emergency Operations.
"As further information and developments are available, the EOC will notify the public through media as well as direct calls through the Harford County Emergency Notification System," the county release stated.
"Hurricane Sandy is a severe storm with potential for a significant impact to Harford County as well as the entire State of Maryland," said County Executive David R. Craig in the news release."We urge citizens to immediately begin to take all necessary preparations in response to Hurricane Sandy and the severe weather we are anticipating."
As further information and developments are available, the county said EOC will notify the public through media, as well as direct calls through the Harford County Emergency Notification System.
For further information regarding the Emergency Notification System and to sign-up to receive emergency messages at a home or cell phone, visit http://www.harfordpublicsafety.org and click on the icon "sign up now" or call 410-638-4900.
Precautionary measures advised
The Harford County Division of Emergency Operations recommends the following precautionary measures for citizens to take prior to the impact of Hurricane Sandy:
• Ensure homes are equipped with flashlights and fresh batteries. In the event of a loss of electricity, use flashlights in lieu of candles for emergency lighting.
• Have at least a three (3) day supply of fresh water and canned goods available for you and your family.
• Have at least one battery powered portable radio available and in good working order to monitor news and weather information regarding the storm.
• Keep curb areas and storm drains clear of leaves and other debris which may impact proper drainage and result in flooded streets.
• When using portable generators for power, never bring the generator into the home or enclosed area as this may result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
• Use outdoor cooking equipment, such as grills or barbecues, outdoors only and in well ventilated areas.
• Should flooding occur in a basement area, do not call 9-1-1 for assistance unless a true fire emergency is imminent. Local fire departments do not respond to pump out basements during natural disasters.