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Harford officials preparing for the worst with Joaquin, hoping for the best

Harford County is continuing to brace for severe weather over the next several days, which could bring flooding and a possible visit from Hurricane Joaquin. Above, a solitary female mallard glides in the Chesapeake Bay off the Havre de Grace City Yacht Basin Wednesday morning following a night of heavy rain that dumped 3 to 5 inches on the area in a matter of hours.
Harford County is continuing to brace for severe weather over the next several days, which could bring flooding and a possible visit from Hurricane Joaquin. Above, a solitary female mallard glides in the Chesapeake Bay off the Havre de Grace City Yacht Basin Wednesday morning following a night of heavy rain that dumped 3 to 5 inches on the area in a matter of hours. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

Harford County officials are making all possible preparations for severe weather to hit during the next few days, and they are urging residents to do the same.

"If the worst happens, we certainly do have this period of time to plan, and planning is not a wasted effort," Cindy Mumby, Harford County government spokesperson, said. "It's important to have a plan in place, because you never know when you're going to need it."

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Rainy weather is anticipated through early next week, and local officials and utilities are preparing for high winds, heavy rains and flooding if Hurricane Joaquin hits the mid-Atlantic region early next week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's projected path, as of Thursday at 5 p.m., had Joaquin off of the Delmarva coast at 2 p.m. Monday. By Thursday, Joaquin had grown into a category 4 hurricane.

Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency Thursday.

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"While the path of Hurricane Joaquin remains uncertain, taking proactive measures is the first step in preparing for extreme weather and will ensure that resources are available in the areas with the greatest need," Hogan said in a statement.

Mumby said the county was notified and is prepared to follow suit if necessary.

"The county executive has had a [local] state of emergency declaration drafted, just to be signed if necessary," she said.

There is a 100 percent chance of rain Friday and a 50 percent chance of rain Saturday, and Joaquin, which was a Category 4 storm battering the Bahamas as of Thursday afternoon, could be off the New Jersey and Delaware coasts by Monday morning, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Woodcock.

He noted the prediction for Joaquin's arrival on the East Coast should be taken "with a grain of salt."

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"Timing is still a little up in the air, as well as the track," Woodcock said.

"There is about a 60 percent chance that the hurricane will stay out to sea and the effect on us will be minimal." Rich Gardiner, spokesperson for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, wrote on the Association's public information page on Facebook. "We should get less rain than expected tomorrow (Friday) with the potential for winds gusting up to 30 mph."

Boaters prepare

Mike Rimel, manager at the Havre de Grace Yacht Basin, said not much seemed to be going on at the waterfront Thursday, although he saw half a dozen boats pulled out so far.

"People usually don't freak out 'till it's too late," he said. Rimel, who has worked at the basin office for 17 years, said the Tydings Park area has not been affected too much by recent storms.

"[Hurricane] Isabel was worse, but I think that surprised everyone," he said, explaining about hurricanes. "I am always concerned; I am never worried."

Will Taylor, a lifelong Havre de Grace resident, who lives at the waterfront Concord Cove Apartments, was waiting at the basin for his brother, who has a boat that is uninsured.

"He doesn't know if he wants to pull it out," Taylor said Thursday afternoon. "The main concern is just the water surge.

Taylor, for one, was not especially concerned about Hurricane Joaquin on Thursday, noting its path is still uncertain.

"I've been by the water my whole life," he said.

Extra crews for utilities

Delmarva Power and BGE officials have alerted hundreds of their own employees as well as support contractors and crews from other utility companies as they monitor the path of Joaquin, according to news releases from both utilities.

BGE customers should call 1-877-778-2222, visit https://www.bge.com or use their mobile devices to report an outage. Customers should monitor BGE's online storm center or its Facebook and Twitter pages for storm preparation tips and to monitor restoration efforts.

Delmarva Power customers should report outages or downed wires by calling 1-800-898-8042, visiting http://www.delmarva.com or via the utility's mobile app.

Harford officials coordinate

Mumby said county leaders are coordinating with each other and allied agencies, including the school system, health department, law enforcement, fire and EMS companies, social services and the hospitals.

"We're continuing to monitor the weather reports, but planning is ongoing," Mumby said. "We're having daily conference calls to update our plans."

Harford County had already been soaked with rain earlier in the week – rainfall totals ranged from 1 to 6 inches around the county during a Tuesday storm, and rain fell throughout the day Thursday.

"If [Joaquin] stays offshore, but moves up the coast, this band of precipitation that we're in right now could move a little further west, which would actually help Harford County," Woodcock said.

Mumby said county staffers are ensuring their vehicles are ready, that lines of communication are open between departments, determining how best to coordinate their efforts and making sure emergency supplies are in place.

She said residents should take similar measures, such as securing outside furniture, having a flashlight and extra batteries available, having appropriate pet and baby supplies, make sure electronic devices are charged and that they have an adequate supply of food and water.

"Certainly we're expecting rain, and if we do get flooding it's important for folks to be aware that 6 inches of moving water can knock you off your feet, and 2 feet of water can sweep your vehicle away, so please avoid walking or driving through flood waters," Mumby said.

Being prepared

Harford County Emergency Manager Rick Ayers sent out an automated phone call Wednesday evening, urging residents to be prepared and warning of possible flash flooding and wind gusts on Friday and Saturday around 30 mph.

Storm updates have been posted on the Harford County Government and Harford County Department of Emergency Services pages on Facebook.

Residents can visit www.harfordpublicsafety.org/EmerPlan/Prepared.cfm for more information about being prepared for a significant weather event.

Events affected

Havre de Grace has already rescheduled its First Fridays outdoor activities from Friday to Oct. 9, the town announced on social media Wednesday afternoon. First Fridays indoor activities will go on as scheduled.

The annual ceremony to illuminate the Concord Point Lighthouse pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, scheduled for Friday evening, has been canceled, Mumby said.

The Darlington Apple Festival is still on for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but festival officials are monitoring the weather, according to the event's Facebook page.. The event is typically held rain or shine.

A post on the festival's Facebook page Wednesday said there had been a recent meeting with county deputy emergency services director Rick Ayers to assess the situation.

Organizers posted more updates Thursday indicating rainy and "breezy" weather for Saturday, and vendors should have "heavy weights" to secure their tents.

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