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Hurricane Joaquin expected to move offshore, but officials warn of flooding: 'Not the time to celebrate'

Gov. Larry Hogan canceled a state of emergency for parts of Maryland on Friday as Hurricane Joaquin's threat to the United States appeared to wane, but officials nonetheless urged residents to be prepared for possible flooding.

Hogan's emergency declaration, issued Thursday, remained in place for Baltimore City, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, and the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland. A flash-flood watch was in effect in those areas through Saturday morning, with 1-3 inches of rain forecast and higher amounts possible in some areas.

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Heavy rain and wind pounded Ocean City and covered low-lying areas with as much as 5 feet of floodwater at high tide — an onslaught that was expected to continue through the weekend. State officials said Friday night they are continuing to monitor areas on the Eastern Shore and along the coastline for flooding. There were no major power outages Friday.

The latest forecasts suggest Joaquin will pass several hundred miles from the coastline, closer to Bermuda, by Monday. The storm remained a dangerous Category 4 cyclone with 130-mph winds hovering over the Bahamas as of Friday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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Heavy rain was possible through Saturday morning from a separate slow-moving system that was expected to drench the Southeast. Showers are possible throughout the weekend.

Hogan rescinded the state of emergency for Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Western Maryland.

"With the storm moving away from our coasts, we are directing state resources to the counties and areas with the highest potential to need assistance," Hogan said. "However, the majority of the state still remains under a state of emergency and rain and wind gusts could cause power outages and flooding in low-lying areas.

"We continue to encourage Marylanders to use common sense and look after family members and neighbors who might need help during this time."

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The tide in Ocean City reached 4.72 feet near the Inlet early Friday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. It was forecast to surpass 5 feet, a "moderate" level of flooding, Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

A coastal flood warning is in effect through 6 p.m. Sunday for Worcester County.

Nearly 4 inches of rain fell in Ocean City from Thursday through Friday afternoon, with more in the forecast from the system moving through the Southeast.

The beach, meanwhile, was pounded by on-shore winds gusting up to 50 mph.

Delmarva Power temporarily shut off service Friday to areas south of North Division Street and Baltimore Avenue, Ocean City officials said. The power was restored, but more outages are likely, officials said.

Some effects from Hurricane Joaquin might still lie ahead, but with the storm forecast to stay well offshore, they could be limited to dangerous rip currents and more heavy surf.

In Baltimore, emergency officials urged residents to prepare for flooding. Bob Maloney, director of the city's Office Emergency Management, said people should take the threat of Joaquin seriously, even if the current track puts the storm offshore.

"That model is good for us now, but these storms — especially this one — are very unpredictable," he said. "Less than 36 hours ago, that thing was heading right toward us.

"Now is not the time to celebrate."

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ordered the city's Emergency Operation Center to open at 7 a.m. Friday. She urged residents to prepare storm readiness kits that include drinking water, batteries, flashlights — not candles — and a radio. She asked that people clear the storm drains outside of their houses and "keep an eye on your neighbors, especially if your neighbors are seniors. Make sure they have what they need."

The city planned to open shelters at 3006 W. Cold Spring Lane and 1400 E. Federal St.

Sand and sandbags will be available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday for Baltimore residents and businesses at Broadway and Thames Street, the former ESPN Zone, and at Rash Field, the mayor's office said.

An ID is required to pick up sand. The limit is 10 bags per person. Officials said people should bring a vehicle capable of carrying heavy loads and a shovel in case all are being used.

Sharnique Shorter waited for about an hour to pick up sand to protect her house. The 37-year-old West Baltimore woman said it was one of many steps she was taking to make sure her family is ready for the storm. She also stocked up on food and toiletries, charged cellphones and other electronics, and gathered flashlights and a radio.

"That's what scares me: It went from a Category 1 to a 4," Shorter said.

Kristina Bachman got sandbags to protect her business, V-NO Wine Bar & Shop, along the waterfront in Fells Point.

"The water gets close to our door," Bachman, 50, said. "If we have high tide, it goes over."

Bachman said she was relieved that the storm appeared to be headed out farther into the Atlantic Ocean.

"We're very lucky," Bachman said. "We're going to get a lot of water and wind, but I don't think it's going to be [another Tropical Storm] Isabel. I'm praying it's not."

Her friend Anita Pilch was frustrated that the city's sand truck was about 15 minutes late, leaving residents to wait in the rain Friday morning. City officials and reporters waited under tents for the city's emergency management update.

"We're standing here in the rain, and they're under a tent, shaking hands," said Pilch, 48, of Upper Fells Point.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials on Thursday warned of potential power outages, and called in additional tree and overhead line crews. With the soil saturated, state officials warned, even minor winds could knock over trees and cause power outages.

Customers, including those with smart meters, should report outages or downed wires to BGE at 877-778-2222, the utility said. City residents should call 311 to report down trees or branches.

Rain is forecast for the area through Monday, with sunny skies returning Tuesday.

William Johnson, the city's transportation director, said residents should keep close watch on the forecast.

"The hurricane's path could change hour to hour," he said. "We have to be vigilant and be prepared."

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