In Maryland, storm only tests patience With little anxiety, Ocean City awaits slow-moving storm

August 27, 1998|By Frank D. Roylance and Chris Guy | Frank D. Roylance and Chris Guy,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Timothy B. Wheeler and Ernest F. Imhoff contributed to this article.

Marylanders were taking a wait-and-see attitude late yesterday as Hurricane Bonnie crept slowly ashore near Wilmington, N.C.

While everyone waited for the hurricane to make its next move, the National Weather Service stuck with its earlier prediction that the storm would linger over eastern North Carolina, then drift over Cape Hatteras and northeastward back into the Atlantic. If so, that would deliver just a glancing blow at Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Forecasters now expect the storm to pass Maryland and Delaware beaches sometime between 6 p.m. today and 2 a.m. tomorrow.

A tropical storm warning was issued yesterday from Chincoteague, Va., to Cape Henlopen, Del.

In Ocean City, which has been on alert for the past two days, officials are developing a sense of humor about the slow-moving hurricane. Yesterday, Clay Stamp, emergency services coordinator, compared the resort town's experience to the movie "Groundhog Day," whose lead character is doomed to repeat endlessly the same day.

"To sum up the latest information from the weather service -- what we did today [Wednesday], we're going to do all over again tomorrow [Thursday]. We are basically on hold," Stamp said.

The latest projections from the National Weather Service show Bonnie stalling over North Carolina, delaying its arrival in Ocean City by about 24 hours.

The hurricane apparently will come about 50 miles closer to the resort town than previously predicted, but its winds will be diminished to tropical storm levels of about 45 mph, forecasters predict.

By tomorrow afternoon, the sun should be shining at the beach, Stamp said. The storm could bring 2 to 4 inches of rain to the area, which could cause flooding in low-lying areas.

Minor flooding in O.C.

A midday downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning caused minor flooding in many Ocean City streets yesterday. The squall sent vacationers scurrying to restaurants and shops along Coastal Highway.

So far, hotel and motel owners say they have not had many cancellations and visitors already at the beach seem willing to stick it out.

Leo and Doris Ardizzione, of Alexandria, Va., who spent the morning on the beach, said they plan to stay the rest of the week with their granddaughter, Rachel, 7, who is enjoying her first visit to the ocean.

"I guess we're not having it so bad," said Ardizzione. "We have friends who were staying in Nags Head [N.C.] this week, so they had no choice but to leave."

The Maryland Emergency Management Center in Pikesville was on its lowest level of alert yesterday.

Don Keldson, assistant director for operations at the center, said, "We're anticipating very little impact on the southern Eastern Shore -- a storm surge of 2 to 3 feet, 2 to 3 inches of rain, then also winds in the 40- to 55-mph range -- much less severe than we originally anticipated."

Even so, in Southern Maryland, boat owners checked the lines securing their sailboats or speedboats, and marina operators policed the docks to secure any items that might become projectiles should high winds hit.

"We're prowling around picking up and packing up loose items like grills, dock carts, trash cans and crab pots," said Matt Gambrill, owner of 430-slip Calvert Marina on Solomons Island. "We had a little microburst come through a week ago, take a shed roof off and knock over a sailboat. I hope this isn't near as bad."

Beyond that, most were hoping the storm would spare the area.

"We're not doing anything radical at this point," said Frank Colobro, dock master at tiny, 18-slip Solomon's Point Marina. "We can only do so much."

Navy puts jets away

At Patuxent Naval Air Station on the Chesapeake Bay in St. Mary's County, the Navy put its jet planes in hangars and pulled patrol boats from the water. But spokeswoman Sue Evans said, "We're not doing anything more than we would do during a

typical storm."

If hurricane-force winds were expected, she said, the Navy would fly its planes inland.

Although the Coast Guard closed Hampton Roads in Virginia to commercial shipping yesterday morning, ships were still able to get in and out of the Port of Baltimore yesterday through the

Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

In Baltimore, the Living Classrooms Foundation on South Caroline Street decided earlier this week to wait out the possible bad weather by bringing its four sailboats into the protected waters of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The boats, used in teaching thousands of students, were tied up Tuesday at Pier 5.

Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va., forecast office, said Bonnie was stranded just off Wilmington because the high-altitude winds that steer hurricanes like corks in a stream, had fallen slack.

"Its movement is really uncertain at this time," he said. "It may drift slowly north into eastern North Carolina. The area that needs to be concerned right now is southeastern Virginia."

Of greatest concern with a slow-moving hurricane, he said, is heavy rain and flooding.

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