Marylanders braced today for torrential rains, high winds, pounding surf and bayshore flooding as Hurricane Floyd bore down on the state after crashing ashore early this morning in North Carolina.
Tropical storm warnings were posted from Baltimore County south to Southern Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay north of the Virginia line, the entire Eastern Shore and Ocean City. Sustained winds are expected to reach 40 to 50 mph today in Baltimore, and 50 to 70 mph on the Shore with higher gusts. Twenty-foot surf was likely at the beaches.
The threat of damage from high winds and flooding prompted Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to declare a state of emergency.
"I urge all Marylanders to take common-sense precautions, so that we can quickly take action to protect lives when the storm heads our way," he said.
Rain bands from Floyd began soaking the region yesterday morning, and topped 1 inch before nightfall in some areas. Precipitation was expected to intensify in showers and thunderstorms today, and could trigger flash flooding before the storm departs tomorrow. Forecasters said 5 to 8 inches of rain is possible before it's over.
The storm surge and high winds could push today's high tides in the upper bay 2 to 3 feet above normal, with 4- to 6-foot surges south of Calvert County. Heavy surf will batter exposed shorelines, forecasters said.
Rural St. Mary's County was preparing to bear the worst of Floyd between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. today, when the center of the greatly weakened storm was expected to pass over the southern tip of the county at the Potomac River bearing 40 to 60 mph winds, heavy rains and storm surge.
County and American Red Cross officials plan to open two hurricane shelters this morning -- a middle school in Spring Ridge and a high school in Great Mills. Together, the schools can hold about 1,000 people.
A sign outside Cook's Liquor and Grocery on Route 5 read: "Help us Lord, here comes Floyd."
Many school systems announced closings for today.
The governor's emergency declaration put the Maryland National Guard and state police on alert. Leave time and vacations were canceled for all 1,614 state troopers. The state's Emergency Operations Center in Pikesville was expected to be fully staffed by 6 a.m. today.
Most counties were delaying evacuation decisions until the storm's impact became clearer. But voluntary evacuations were under way late yesterday on low-lying Smith Island in Maryland and on Tangier Island in Virginia.
Dozens of Smith Island residents began heading for the mainland yesterday, piling aboard mail boats, Coast Guard and state Natural Resources Police vessels. By late afternoon, nearly one-third of the Chesapeake Bay island's 350 residents had sailed for the mainland.
Birthday boat ride
A Coast Guard cutter carried evacuees from Tangier Island, including 6-year-old Mikayla Evans. Her 12-mile journey across churning Tangier Sound could form an indelible birthday memory.
Clutching her mother's arm as the sturdy boat plowed along at 24 knots through 3- to 4-foot waves, the girl was headed for a celebration at her grandparents' house in Mardela Springs.
Her mother, Dana Evans, 35, pregnant with her second child, said she had few second thoughts about leaving her husband, Billy John, to ride out the storm.
"He's a die-hard islander, but I am from the mainland," Evans said.
Shelters opened on the Eastern Shore overnight for residents fleeing low-lying communities and mobile home parks.
Visitors were evacuated yesterday from the low-lying Pocomoke River State Forest in Worcester County and Janes Island State Park in Somerset County.
Ocean City battens down
No evacuation orders were issued yesterday in Ocean City, but that could change today if forecasts of heavy rain, 20-foot surf and sustained winds of 60 mph prove accurate.
"We're telling our residents to secure their homes, batten down their hatches and stay in touch," said the resort's emergency management director, Clay Stamp.
Forecasts late yesterday said Floyd was expected to cross into Virginia around 2 p.m. today. It was expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm, with sustained winds under 74 mph by the time it reaches Maryland.
The center of the storm was forecast to cross the Chesapeake Bay at the Virginia line, and pass just west of Salisbury by 11 p.m. before charging on into Delaware.
Michelle Margraf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., said as the storm moves north toward the Chesapeake, east and southeast winds on the storm's dangerous northeast quadrant will push water up the bay.
The storm surge will add 4 to 6 feet to the high tides south of Anne Arundel County, expected at 9: 35 a.m. and 11: 01 p.m. today.
High tides at Baltimore will be 2 to 3 feet above normal, with flooding in low-lying spots. High tide in Baltimore is expected at 11: 39 a.m. today.
After the storm's center crosses the bay around midnight tonight, winds in the Baltimore region and on the bay will shift to the east and northeast. That will drive water out of the bay and reduce the threat from tomorrow's high tides, but wind and waves will persist.
The threat of storm tides and high winds in the southern portion of the bay prompted Somerset County officials to plan the evacuation of about 100 residents of a nursing home that adjoins McCready Hospital in Crisfield. The facility stands just 7 1/2 feet above the water.
"That's cutting it close," said Steve Marshall, the county's director of emergency management. "Right now, they're planning on moving the nursing home patients over to the hospital. The hospital is a lot higher than the nursing home."
Across the bay in Charles County, officials said they would wait until today to decide whether to evacuate low-lying areas such as Cobb Island, in the tidal Potomac, and low areas around Mattawoman Creek. In Annapolis, officials began handing out sandbags to business owners and residents at the City Dock yesterday morning, expecting heavy rains to flood the low-lying waterfront.
"It doesn't take a hurricane to flood City Dock," said Thomas W. Roskelly, Annapolis city spokesman.
In Baltimore County, officials said flood-prone communities such as Oella or Bowleys Quarters will be watched closely and evacuations ordered if necessary.
The impending storm sent thousands of Marylanders shopping yesterday. Tom Green, manager of the Home Depot in Owings Mills, said his store sold plenty of sand, sump pumps, generators, flashlight batteries and rain gear.
"The plywood has just been flying out the door," Green said.
John Weigel of Jacksonville works in Owings Mills and stopped by to buy extenders for his downspouts, hoping to divert the rainwater away from his foundation. "It's something I've been meaning to do, but the storm brought me out for it," he said.
Air of anticipation
While some made preparations for the storm, others settled in to watch it.
In North Beach, in Calvert County, 14-year-old Amber Freeman and her friends waited eagerly yesterday for the storm to hit. "This is my first flood. I can't wait," she said.
In Ocean City, Richard Bisbing, 59, of Frederick, Pa., sat in his rain gear on the front porch of Harrison Hall, a small hotel on the Boardwalk, and gazed at the surf.
"We heard about the storm but came anyway," he said. "Most people like to sit inside. I like it outdoors. I get a little bit wet, but that's OK. Come check on me tomorrow and see if I've washed away."
The resort's famed Boardwalk was all but deserted yesterday, and there was minor flooding on Ocean Highway. Most stores were closed but not boarded up.
Harford County Executive James M. Harkins said he expected the evacuation today of 2,000 people from Rumsey Island and Joppatowne. There were plans to set up an emergency shelter at Magnolia Middle School.
After conferring with the National Weather Service, Harkins said, "They told us this could be the worst blow Harford County has seen."
He urged residents to take precautions, such as charging cell phones, keeping radios and flashlights with new batteries close at hand, clearing yards and decks of loose objects, and securing boats.
The CSX Corp. railroad tracks used by Maryland's commuter rail service were expected to reopen today after storm-related closures yesterday. But trains on the Camden and Brunswick lines will follow a holiday schedule with about half the normal number of trains.
If winds from the storm reach 50 miles per hour, the Light Rail system will be shut down, and bus and subway service could be delayed, officials said.
The State Highway Administration began calling hundreds of small contractors across the state yesterday for help with removal of trees and debris from roads.
"With the rains come flooding, and with the winds come power outages and signal failures," said Dave Buck, an SHA spokesman. "We'll be keeping an eye on the roads where we generally have flooding."
Floyd's arrival was expected to cause flight cancellations at Baltimore-Washington International Airport today. Officials recommended that passengers check with their airlines before going to BWI. Flight information and weather forecasts are available online at www.bwiairport.com
'A dangerous storm'
The Coast Guard warned boaters yesterday to stay in port. "We're telling people to get off the water and stay off," said Petty Officer Stephen Baker, a Coast Guard spokesman in Portsmouth, Va. "It's a dangerous storm."
Baltimore's public marine terminals expected to close early this morning, said Sara Moriarty, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration. Cranes at the piers cannot be operated safely in winds stronger than 45 mph.
The Coast Guard moved at least eight of its cutters to Baltimore yesterday to wait out the storm. Baltimore's protected harbor was expected to provide better shelter than those at the southern end of the Chesapeake.
And what was good for big boats was good for little ones, too.
The U.S. Naval Academy sailed its 20 "yard patrol craft," or YPs, and many training sailboats five miles up the Severn River yesterday to the protected inlet at Round Bay.
At Solomons, in southern Calvert County, the windows on the historic octagonal lighthouse at the Calvert Marine Museum were boarded up. Boat owners nearby were preparing for 60 mph winds by doubling up lines and moving their boats to shelter in small creeks and inlets.
Mike Shaw, 26, a transplanted New Yorker, said he was planning to ride out Tropical Storm Floyd aboard his 65-foot fishing boat, the Elizabeth C.
"There is nothing like riding out a hurricane on a boat," said Shaw, grinning from ear to ear. "Man, it's a blast."
Earl Bigelow and Walter Carter -- both PEPCO linemen -- were playing hooky from work to secure Bigelow's 30-foot recreational fishing boat, the Lucky C.
"We're panicking big-time," Carter, a Washington resident, said with a smile. The men said they would be expected to work 16-hour shifts restoring power in the aftermath of the storm.
"We won't see civilization again for four weeks if it gets bad," Carter said.
At Baltimore's Inner Harbor yesterday, officials at the World Trade Center tested the building's emergency flood-control system, which seals the building's loading dock and underground entrance ramp.
Around the region
Officials in Howard and Carroll counties made plans to monitor flood-prone creeks and launch evacuations if needed. Howard officials were already getting reports of flooding last night at Route 29 and Route 216.
Carroll County Sheriff Ken Tregoning said deputies would assist state police in monitoring the Monocacy River and its tributaries and patrolling potential flood areas in Detour and Union Bridge.
"If the water rises to dangerous levels, we will be there to alert the citizens and help evacuate them," Tregoning said.
Not everyone was grateful for all the official storm warnings.
"People panic here when it rains," said Bruce Baldwin, manager of the Admiral's Cup bar and restaurant in Fells Point. In the five years Baldwin's worked there, he said, no tropical storm has ever caused the damage that meteorologists predicted. "It kills business."
Sun staff writers Heather Dewar, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Peter Hermann, Robert D. Little, Marcia Meyers, Joel McCord, Amy Oakes, Jacqueline Powder, Tanika White, Nancy Youssef, Dail Willis and Chris Guy contributed to this article.
As Hurricane/Tropical Storm Floyd approaches, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service advise residents of waterfront, low-lying and flood-prone communities to make preliminary evacuation plans. Evacuation routes should avoid coastal or low-lying roads. Find a safe place to leave your pet; only Seeing-Eye and hearing-ear dogs are allowed in shelters. Let friends and neighbors know where you are going.
All Marylanders should prepare a disaster supply kit, which should include:
At least three gallons of water per person.
Dried or canned foods.
Manual can opener.
Battery operated radio.
Flashlight and extra batteries.
Personal care items.
First aid kit.
Sleeping bags or blankets.
Fill your car's gas tank.
Bring indoors any lawn furniture, trash cans, outdoor decorations, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind.
Secure any loose items left outside.
Cover windows exposed to likely tree or wind damage.
Make trees more wind resistant by removing damaged limbs.
As of last night, these school systems were to be closed today in anticipation of the storm:
Anne Arundel County
Prince George's County
Queen Anne's County St. Mary's County
Pub Date: 9/16/99