Mayor Rick Meehan issued a local state of emergency order Thursday afternoon ordering all persons other than emergency personnel to evacuate and seek shelter elsewhere. The evacuation order initiates the third phase of the town's emergency plan.
Officials enacted the plan today amid sunny skies in a resort still packed with vacationers, said Donna Abbott, communciations manager for Ocean City.
"We’re still in summer mode here," Abbott said. Because of school, "it was starting to go on the downswing, but we still have a significant amount of visitors in town.”
She said that added urgency to the town's decision to take action now. "We have a lot of people to move in a short amount of time," Abbott said.
Ocean City has about 7,000 year-round residents plus additional summer workers and employees that swell the community to near 15,000 in season.
Officials said Ocean City will not provide shelters on the island and beginning tonight, no one will be allowed to enter the resort town.
As part of the emergency order, Meehan is also asking that all Ocean City businesses close as of midnight.
Officials are hoping residents and tourists will be further encouraged to leave the resort area by imposing a ban on the purchase of alcohol, which will also begin at midnight.
"They’re worried about the time frame," said Amy Tingle of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, who attended an emergency planning meeting on Thursday.
"Putting this plan into place early helps to get the residents out. Because we do have a lot of elderly residents who have special needs."
"We didn't want to do this," said Abbott, but Meehan and members of the town council were provided with all of the information on the storm's potential path, tidal surges and other details and decided to err on the side of public safety.
"Hurricanes change and it could change again, but we have to err on the side of caution," she said. "You have to take into account that people’s lives need to be saved."