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In Maryland, calls to 'keep watching' for threats from Hurricane Florence could extend into next week

As Hurricane Florence clobbers the Carolinas, it’s forecast to bring rain and some flooding risks to Maryland on Friday and Saturday. But Gov. Larry Hogan said he wouldn’t cancel a statewide emergency declaration as the threat of Florence’s remnants looms.

The massive cyclone was expected to make landfall on the North Carolina coast Friday, bringing “life-threatening” storm surge and flash flooding while slowly drifting over South Carolina through Saturday.

“This is a powerful storm that can kill,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned as the storm began battering the coast Thursday. “Today the threat becomes a reality."

Forecasters said some of Florence’s outer bands could bring heavy rain and perhaps isolated flooding to Maryland, and they warned that significant coastal flooding was possible along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay as winds push waters on shore.

Isha Renta, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Baltimore/Washington forecast office, said while the forecast may look humdrum for the region, “we cannot discount” the storm.

“Sometimes these systems, they expand,” she said. “We have to keep watching.”

Local meteorologists were already looking ahead to next week, when the remnants of Florence, by then expected to be a tropical or post-tropical depression, could move up into the Mid-Atlantic.

The National Hurricane Center forecasts that it could be centered over southwestern Pennsylvania by early Tuesday morning, potentially bringing more rain to Maryland and another surge of floodwaters down an already swollen Susquehanna River.

Unrelated to Florence, Conowingo Dam owner Exelon Corp. opened more than a dozen of the structure’s floodgates Wednesday night and into Thursday. The prospect of even more rain across Pennsylvania worried Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome Sr. on Thursday.

“We’re watching [Florence], but it’s not going to affect us in the near term,” Tome said. “We’re watching how it tracks when it comes inland.”

In the Carolinas, forecasters said that given the storm’s size and a likely sluggish track, the hurricane could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial and farm waste sites.

“It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. “The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact — and we have that.”

On Thursday, schools and businesses were closed as far south as Georgia, airlines canceled about 1,200 flights and counting, and coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty.

While such preparations were no longer warranted in Maryland, emergency officials still went through the motions of storm readiness.

Baltimore County officials said Thursday that they placed emergency personnel on “high alert” should there be flooding and outages, and urged residents to make preparations just in case.

“This is an excellent opportunity for all of us to remind individuals that these storms can come up quickly, and we need to be prepared,” County Executive Don Mohler said.

In Baltimore, city officials were providing sandbags to residents in Fells Point on Thursday. Forecasters predict that high tides could rise as much as 3 feet above normal into Saturday in the city and in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert and Harford counties.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Linda Foy said the utility has withdrawn requests for extra help from crews in other states. But officials are not taking down their guard yet, and would wait until early next week to determine whether BGE could afford to send crews to other regions to help, she said.

Should Florence bring much rain, either over the weekend or next week, the region is already prone to flooding, said Jay Ringgold, Baltimore County’s director of homeland security and emergency management. Most of the region has received twice, if not three times, its normal rainfall so far this year.

“We are extremely concerned with the streams and rivers at full capacity,” Ringgold said. “Highly saturated grounds and heavy rainfall or high winds could cause significant damage.”

Some minor flooding was occurring late Wednesday and early Thursday along the Cecil County shore of the Susquehanna River below Conowingo Dam. Fourteen of the dam’s spill gates were opened Wednesday until the river crested Wednesday night, but several remained open through Thursday.

Hogan urged Marylanders to prepare for the possibility of more rain. By leaving his executive order declaring a statewide emergency in place, the state will be ready, if necessary, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said.

The declaration puts state resources, including the Maryland National Guard, on standby and allows it to coordinate efforts with nearby states, if more help is needed. That is currently the case in the Carolinas — the state sent Maryland Task Force One, an urban search-and-rescue team based in Rockville, to South Carolina on Wednesday.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Michael Dresser, Cody Boteler and David Anderson and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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