Harford escapes the destruction, but not the misery from Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene wasn't as bad at to Harford County as it could have been.

But, that doesn't mean the storm, which rolled across the county Saturday evening into Sunday morning, didn't bring plenty of misery to county residents.

From downed trees and blocked roads to power outages that climbed into the tens of thousands and which lasted for days for many, Irene left plenty to be remembered by from one end of Harford to the other.

Irene dumped about 5 inches of rain across the county, with Havre de Grace, Kingsville and Darlington all getting measured rainfall between 4.80 inches and 5.23 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

The highest documented wind gust in Harford was measured at 52 mph in Norrisville. Similarly, winds reached 50 mph in Edgewood, 49 in Bel Air, 45 in Joppa, 44 in Darlington, 42 in Fallston and 41 in Whiteford, according to the NWS.

There was no major flooding reported around the county and no damaging coastal storm surges such as occurred following Hurricane Isabel eight years ago.

County Executive David Craig declared a state of emergency Friday evening in anticipation of the storm. It remained in effect Tuesday, as the county continued to assess the damage to roads, bridges and structures from the high winds and heavy rains. (Please see related story Page A8.)

More than 100 county roads were closed at some point from late Saturday well into Tuesday afternoon, most because of downed trees and power lines, usually both.

The power outages, that rose to more than 50,000 homes and businesses on Sunday, made highway travel difficult because several major intersections were left without functioning traffic signals. Miraculously, no major accidents were reported from Saturday through Tuesday. (Please see related story Page 9.)

At least 20 homes and a few other buildings suffered major damage, mostly from falling trees.

In Fallston, two 100-foot trees came through the roof and back window of a home in the 2000 block of Larchmont Drive. In Aberdeen, a tree fell on a home on Maxa Road. One particular street in the Bel Air area, Forest Drive off of Route 924, had several homes damaged by falling tree limbs, a county government spokesman said.

A mobile home in Darlington burned down Sunday morning. County spokesman Ben Lloyd said the home, in the 2200 block of Castleton Road, caught fire after a tree fell on it.

No residents were injured. Two firefighters and one emergency medical technician sustained minor injuries, but were treated at the scene, Lloyd said.

The other damaged homes were not limited to any specific neighborhoods, Lloyd said.

"They were really all over," he said.

For those whose homes otherwise held up, most at some point had to live without electricity, and thousands of customers, still without power Tuesday, faced the prospect of not having electricity restored until Friday, or later.

Aggressive warning approach

Perhaps having learned from Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, which sent a 9-foot storm surge up the Chesapeake Bay into Havre de Grace, Harford County took an aggressive approach to preparing for Hurricane Irene.

Harford residents were warned of possible flooding and significant rainfall, as well as high damaging winds, as early as mid-week last week, just as they recovered from the shock of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia and felt all along the East Coast.

The county activated its Emergency Operations Center Friday, and it was manned throughout the storm to keep on top of any dangerous situations. Weather updates were sent out via Connect CTY to residents throughout the weekend and into Monday evening.

While most people were holed up in their homes most of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, by Sunday afternoon the winds and rain had subsided and people were making their way outdoors to survey the damage, some were even mowing their lawns.

Perhaps most didn't have anything else to do while their electricity was out, leaving some without Internet and TV, as well.

Powerless in Harford

Most of BGE's 101,000 Harford County customers were without power at some point during the period between Saturday evening and Tuesday afternoon, according to statistics on the company's website that were also confirmed by a company spokesperson.

Some BGE customers had their service come back on within a few hours; others were still powerless late Tuesday evening.

As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, 17,200 BGE customers were still without power, according to the company's website.

Delmarva Power serves about 5,111 customers in northern Harford County. Of those, most lost power during some point over the weekend into Monday and Tuesday.

"Almost 95 percent of our customers in Harford lost power at some point due to Irene," Bridget Shelton, Delmarva Power spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

As of noon Tuesday, about 525 Harford County Delmarva customers remained without power.

"The vast majority will be back in by midnight Wednesday," Shelton said.

Power, or the lack thereof, was the source of most of the problems with public institutions, as well.

More than half of the county's 54 school buildings were without power Monday, which prompted school officials to cancel classes Monday – the scheduled first day of the 2011-12 school year – and again on Tuesday. Even Tuesday morning, nine buildings still didn't have power, a spokesperson said.

School officials were still meeting late Tuesday afternoon and had not announced when classes would start. (Please see related story Page 1A.)

County and state government offices were closed Monday, but reopened Tuesday at 10 a.m. Some government buildings in Bel Air, including the sheriff's office and the county administrative center, had to work off of generator power Monday.

Harford County Public Library was closed Monday, but re-opened Tuesday, stating on its website, "Please pardon any delay you experience with your account. We are catching up from the aftermath of Irene."

Circuit and District courts in Bel Air were also closed Monday, but reopened Tuesday.

Let the clean-up begin

The county government is urging residents not to burn debris in their backyards, and is setting up three drop-off sites where residents can take tree limbs and other storm debris.

The sites are: the Edgewood Recreation Park parking lot, 1702 Trimble Road in Edgewood; the Aberdeen Department of Public Works Maintenance Shop parking lot, Michael Lane in Aberdeen; and the Havre de Grace Community Center parking lot, 100 Lagaret Lane in Havre de Grace.

During a press briefing about debris disposal Monday, Craig noted the sites will only accept tree limbs, "not sofas or mattresses, those kinds of things."

The sites will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday through Monday, Sept. 5.

The Harford Waste Disposal Center yard waste facility will also be open to the public from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. It will accept residential and commercial loads.

The Tollgate yard trim drop-off site off of Tollgate Road in Bel Air will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday to Monday. Only residential loads are accepted.

Open burning in Harford County is prohibited without a burning permit from the Harford County Health Department, which cannot be obtained unless certain requirements are met.

"Permits are limited to brush - vegetative debris - and any continuation of open burning without a permit is in violation of Maryland and Harford County code. Permits must be applied for at least 72 hours prior to the date of anticipated use," Kevin Barnaba, director of environmental health for the health department, said in a press release.

Any open burning is prohibited in town or city limits, subdivision housing developments or other densely populated areas. All burning must be done at least 500 yards from occupied structures or heavily traveled roads, according to health department officials.

Towns, cities deal with Irene

The cities of Havre de Grace and Aberdeen reported no major problems, other than power outages and the need to remove downed tree limbs and other storm debris along their main streets.

City offices in both were back to normal and open by Tuesday.

Mayor Wayne Dougherty, in Havre de Grace, said one tree came down on a home at Stokes and Ontario streets, and a resident was evacuated there.

"We had some trees come down," he said. "We have a lot of cleanup to do."

But Havre de Grace "avoided any flooding which is good," Dougherty added. "Everything looks good… I think where we were lucky is when it would rain and there would be a 30-minute stop, that's where we really fared well. The water in the bay being pushed out, that really helped."

In Havre de Grace Sunday afternoon, a large tree was still blocking the CSX Railroad's track between Lewis Lane and Ontario Street. Farther west on Route 40, most of the west side of Aberdeen was without power.

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett said the main area of the city where roads had to be closed was near Old Philadelphia Road and Route 7.

"That was a drain and we got that cleared up right away," he said.

Also, "we had one [tree] on New County Road that went into a house and [there] was some damage, but nobody's hurt."

Bel Air Mayor Dave Carey said the major problem in town remained the ongoing power outages, especially along Main Street.

Bel Air was a ghost town Monday. Most offices, including the county's and state's, were closed because the power was out. Multiple traffic signals were dark, creating driving havoc. Bel Air police set up cones to take the roads leading to most of the big intersections down to one lane. Other roads were closed to eliminate the issues of a four-way stop.

Many downtown businesses were dark Monday, including the Harford County Sheriff's Office, which was running on generators, as well as most of the restaurants, though some of those were working off of generators. (Please see related story Page A2.)

Other than that, Carey said he was not aware of any serious property damage.

Bel Air Town Hall was up and running Tuesday morning, though there were issues with receiving and sending e-mail, which the town gets through Comcast. The Department of Public Works as well as the Bel Air Reckord Armory were also functional.

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