It may be early, but Harford County is “planning for the worst, hoping for the best,” like everyone else, as the Category 4 Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast with heavy rain and high winds, local officials say.
Harford may be spared, however, as the most recent forecast from the National Weather Service shows the hurricane pushing more to the south, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said Tuesday afternoon.
“It was the most positive news we’ve had since Sunday, it appears the impacts could be limited,” Glassman said, but added the caveat that weather forecasts are always subject to change.
While forecasters are predicting weather “not as catastrophic” for wind and rain, the potential for flooding remains along the county’s waterfront communities such as Havre de Grace and Joppatowne, as well as freshwater flooding in its streams and creeks.
Even with the “positive” news, Harford residents are still getting ready and the county’s allied agencies are getting emergency plans in place, Glassman said.
Grocery stores are packed with people buying “water, water and more water,” while local government officials are worried what more water — rain — will do to the already-saturated ground from the rainy spring and summer seasons Harford has seen.
Gov. Larry Hogan has already declared a state of emergency in Maryland, which will allow the state to more efficiently coordinate support and provide assistance to local jurisdictions within Maryland and neighboring states, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Rain or shine events for the weekend are up in the air, Glassman said.
The county began preparing for the storm Monday, with a meeting with local agencies at the Emergency Operations Center “to lay the groundwork for planning for potential activation and any storm-related response,” Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County Government, said.
“The Department of Emergency Services is constantly monitoring the forecast and we are certainly planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” she said.
“We’re very concerned that while Maryland does not look like it’s in the [hurricane’s] direct path, more rain is the last thing we need,” Mumby said.
Already swelled waterways can overrun their banks, trees can topple and damage facilities and knock down power lines, closing roads and causing power outages, she said.
“Those are things we don’t want to see,” she said. “Even a small chance of something catastrophic is something you have to be concerned about and take seriously.”
Multiple trees down presents problems for the county’s public works crews, which maintain 1,200 miles of roadway, she said.
“Anything impeding the roadways we try to address quickly, but the more trees down makes it more difficult to do in a timely way,” Mumby said.
Most importantly, the county is asking all residents to heed warnings and make smart decisions, and avoid walking or driving through flooded roadways.
Residents saw firsthand nearly two weeks ago what raging waters can do when a car and a person were swept off the road in a surging Broad Run. Melissa Lehew, 34, of Darlington, died while she and her boyfriend tried to rescue Daniel Samis, 67, of Abingdon, when his car got stuck in deep water on Route 136 in Churchville. Samis, whose car was swept away, also died.
“We want folks to heed the warning of not going through standing water,” Mumby said. “We’ve seen the terrible reminder of the deadly power of flash floods. We are strongly urging people not to take the risk, it’s not worth it.”
Not only are drivers risking their own lives putting themselves in such situations, but if they get stuck they’re also risking the lives of the first responders who try to rescue them, she said.
Six inches of moving water can knock down a person or stall a vehicle, and 2 feet of moving water can sweep away a vehicle away. Heed the warning to “turn around, don’t drown.”
Storm-related county road closures can be tracked online at http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/1164/Road-Reports and storm-related updates will be posted on the Facebook pages for Harford County Government and the Harford County Department of Emergency Services.
As the storm develops, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office is working closely with DES. Deputies are preparing by ensuring all equipment is stocked, gas tanks are full and patrol operations are covered, according to Cristie Hopkins, director of media relations for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We are prepared to make modifications to shifts and staffing, as needed. The HCSO will be sharing important safety and law enforcement messages on social media throughout the storm,” Hopkins wrote in an email. “We are asking citizens to do their part by following any warnings and instructions by local officials.”
While the City of Havre de Grace is concerned about rain and wind, the potential storm surge is what officials are primarily focused on, Chief of Staff Steve Gamatoria said.
“We were told today it’s very promising the storm surge threat seems to be lessening,” Gamatoria said, adding that the tides are already about 3 feet higher than normal. “From lessons learned, we’re having nothing of it. We’re continuing to plan.”
Another concern are the numerous events planned in the city this weekend. In addition to the running festival Saturday, the Havre de Grace International Food Truck Festival is Sunday and the Independence Day carnival fundraiser was scheduled Sept. 12 to 15.
The carnival has been canceled, Gamatoria said.
“They can’t operate big rides in 35 mph winds,” he said.
Residents getting ready
Sarah Klein walked into the Aberdeen ShopRite Tuesday morning and the lines were backed up into the aisles, she said.
“We are busy,” Klein, the front-end supervisor of the Klein family’s grocery stores. “It looked like a snowstorm again.”
Customers are buying lots of milk, batteries, toilet paper and water as they prepare for being without power for extended periods.
The stores across the county are selling so much water an emergency order of five extra pallets per store are scheduled to be delivered Wednesday, she said.
“People seem to be taking this a little more serious than I thought,” she said. “I didn’t think it would happen this soon.”
In the waterfront community of Joppatowne, Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company has arranged for sand to be delivered by the Harford County government to Robert Copenhaver Park, 664 Trimble Road in Joppa for residents who wish to make sand bags.
“With a waterfront community, there is a higher likelihood of flooding,” Andrew Doyle, public information officer for the fire company, said. “We just want to provide residents with everything we can to help them prepare for this event.”
The sand will be available at the park. Bags and shovels are not provided and residents must fill their own bags, Doyle said.
At about 3 p.m. Tuesday, Baltimore residents Ashley and Donovan Pendleton, who are brother and sister, arrived at the park and filled several plastic bags with sand from the two piles that had been delivered earlier.
Ashley Pendleton said she is a volunteer emergency medical technician in Woodlawn and saw information about the sand on her pager. They live near a stream and don’t have sand available in their community so they came to the Joppa park, she said.
A pile of sand also was delivered to Flying Point Park in Edgewood on Tuesday, according to Mumby, who said at total of 21 tons of sand was delivered to both locations by the the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation “to help citizens prepare sandbags against flooding.”
In Aberdeen, the police department is considering moving to 12-hour shifts and canceling all leave, Aberdeen Police Lt. Will Reiber said, adding those changes will depend on how the storm tracks.
“Our departments will be fully prepared to execute public safety. We will be well-staffed and have all equipment in position of preparedness,” Reiber said.
All the rain so far this year has been quite a challenge for nursery operators like Jeff Sachs, who owns Kroh’s Nursery on Route 22 between Aberdeen and Churchville.
“You can certainly work in a drought, but you can’t work in the rain,” Sachs said. “We don’t wish for either one, but it seems like a farmer is never happy.”
When it has stopped raining this summer, the heat and humidity are excessive, he said.
“This year has been quite volatile. We can’t seem to find the norm,” Sachs said, adding that rainfall totals for this year are already 2 feet above average and it’s only September.
The Harford County Department of Emergency Services offered the following safety information for Hurricane Florence and the hurricane season in general:
- Sign up to receive Harford County’s emergency alerts at the harfordcounty.bbcportal.com/.
- Secure outdoor objects or bring them inside; clear loose and clogged rain gutters, downspouts and storm drains when it is safe to do so before the storm.
- Ensure that cell phones and other mobile devices are fully charged.
- Familiarize yourself with emergency evacuation routes and high ground in your area; identify a place where family members will meet if necessary.
- Do not use generators indoors including your garage or basement; generators should only be used outdoors in a well-ventilated area away from windows.
- Have an emergency supply kit ready with a minimum of three to seven days of nonperishable food and water (a minimum of 1 gallon of water per person per day).
- Place copies of important documents and phone numbers along with cash in a sealed plastic bag in your supply kit.
- Remember to stock food and water for your pets.
- Check your supply of prescription medicines and ensure that you have extra on hand.
- Check in on elderly neighbors or anyone without a support network.
- Monitor weather conditions and follow instructions when issued.
- Prepare a battery-powered radio; stay tuned to radio station WXCY 103.7 FM and local TV news for official weather information.
- Make a note of the Harford County Information Line, which may become activated for non-emergency information during a storm: 410-838-5800.
For more hurricane safety information, visit www.harfordcountymd.gov/1976/HurricanesTropical-Storms.
Record staff member Matt Button contributed to this report.