In Ocean City, preparations exclude evacuation Plywood sheets go up in expectation of glancing blow by Bonnie

August 26, 1998|By Chris Guy and Frank D. Roylance | Chris Guy and Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- Emergency management officials say Maryland's resort city should receive only a glancing blow from Hurricane Bonnie, as the first major storm of the season apparently will spare both property owners and beach-goers.

Forecasters from the National Weather Service say the storm will arrive tonight, pass within 150 miles of the coast early tomorrow morning and bring sustained winds of 50 mph and higher gusts.

Heavy rains and wind could bring flooding in some low-lying areas and some property damage is likely, officials say. But more than 200,000 visitors will be allowed to finish their late-summer vacations.

"The bottom line is that the storm looks like it will glance over Pamlico and Albemarle sounds in North Carolina and then veer out into the ocean," said Clay Stamp, Ocean City's emergency management coordinator. "Even better news is that the storm will arrive here when most people are asleep and off the streets."

Despite the optimistic forecast, hurricane warnings were posted as far north as Chincoteague, Va., late yesterday afternoon.

Federal and state officials on Assateague began evacuating campers and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts from the island yesterday afternoon. Assateague, a protected barrier island, is known for its natural shorelines, sand dunes and herds of wild ponies.

"The ponies are pretty good at protecting themselves. They've been doing it for hundreds of years," Maryland spokesman John Surrick said.

As the storm approached, federal officials were forced to call off an already delayed beach replenishment project aimed at restoring sand that was stripped from Assateague's northern tip during several brutal storms last winter. The project should begin within a few days, however.

Winds are expected to increase steadily today, with peak storm-force winds coming about 3 a.m. tomorrow, Stamp said. Heavy rain is expected to begin tonight and continue through the day tomorrow.

As mandatory evacuations began in North Carolina yesterday, authorities here awaited word from the weather service. A full-scale evacuation of Ocean City would take 15 or 16 hours, they said.

"This storm still could veer to the west slightly," Stamp said. "It still could force us to evacuate some low-lying areas, but we shouldn't have to evacuate everybody in town."

Yesterday, the resort town seemed nearly oblivious to the hurricane threat as tourists jammed the beaches on a sultry late-season day. There was little sign that business owners were preparing for high winds or tides. Swimmers were urged to stay in water near lifeguard stands, but the beach patrol imposed no restrictions.

Workers at Adkins Lumber on Coastal Highway posted a sign that read, "We do need lots of drizzle, but we hope Bonnie will fizzle." Hardware manager Lorraine Nornes said the store had sold three truckloads of plywood to property owners who wanted to protect their homes or businesses.

"After last year when we had a few storms that blew past us and didn't do anything, people seem to feel secure," Nornes said.

Hotel bookings were not affected by the uncertain weather, said Susan L. Jones, a spokeswoman for the city's hotel, motel and restaurant association.

"There have been some cancellations, but for the most part, people seem to be going ahead with their plans," Jones said.

Threatening weather was not a deterrent for Posey and Delores Plunkett, of Reisterstown. Married 11 years, they've celebrated their past five wedding anniversaries at the beach.

"As long as it stays offshore, we will be OK," Mrs. Plunkett said. "Even with rainy weather, it's a relaxing vacation just to get away from telephones, friends and family. I'm not going to let a storm bother me."

But in Baltimore, with Hurricane Bonnie extending its winds and waves toward the Chesapeake Bay, shipyard workers rushed yesterday to move the 1854 warship Constellation to a safer mooring in the Patapsco River.

At 10: 30 a.m. yesterday, three days ahead of schedule, the fTC partly restored ship was towed upriver from the Fort McHenry Shipyard to the Maryland Port Administration's Pier 8, where the $9 million restoration will be completed in time for a return to the Inner Harbor next July.

The ship was refloated Friday and lashed to an old barge beside the shipyard's wharf. It was to have been moved to Pier 8 this Friday. But as Bonnie approached the Carolina coast, shipbuilder Peter Boudreau began to worry.

"The location at the dry dock was pretty tenuous," he said. "The wharf we tied up to is on the verge of collapse, and has been for a number of years. It's fine in calm weather, but it's not a place you'd like to be when it's gonna blow."

A Vane Brothers tug eased ship and barge upriver, a 35-minute trip at 4 or 5 knots. There it was tied up tight to weather the storm.

"We had to go out and beg, borrow and steal a lot more dock lines," Boudreau said. "We got some wire and chain. She's really going to be well tied up."

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