Maryland braces as Dennis hits

Officials prepare for flooding as 8 inches of rain are possible

`No holiday weekend for us'

Tropical storm expected to drench state after passing through N.C.

September 05, 1999|By Tim Craig and Lisa Respers | Tim Craig and Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Tropical Storm Dennis is expected to blow across Maryland today, bringing up to 8 inches of rain, 40-mph wind gusts, coastal flooding and the potential for tornadoes.

Gale warnings were in effect for the Delmarva beaches last night, with the brunt of the storm expected to hit this evening. A flash-flood watch is in effect for most of the state today, with a potential of 6 inches of rain in Baltimore and 8 inches in Western Maryland.

A tropical storm warning was issued at 5 p.m. yesterday for Baltimore and 12 Maryland counties bordering the Chesapeake Bay. A tornado watch is in effect today for Southern Maryland, Eastern Virginia and coastal waters of the Chesapeake Bay, although the center of the storm is expected to remain west of Frederick.

The tropical storm warning, Baltimore's first since 1995, is expected to remain in effect until tomorrow. After wandering off the North Carolina coast for the past week, Dennis moved ashore in North Carolina yesterday afternoon and dumped torrential rains through much of the eastern part of the state. Sustained winds for the storm were clocked at 70 mph, just short of hurricane force. Last night, maximum sustained winds decreased to about 50 mph.

No significant damage or injuries were reported, although flooding and scattered power outages were reported in several coastal counties.

The National Weather Service reported that the center of Dennis' huge eye crossed the Core Banks shortly before 5 p.m., just south of Cedar Island. It immediately began weakening as it turned northwest.

In Maryland, according to the National Weather Service, heavy winds and rain will whip the state.

"Anyone who lives in a low-lying or flood-prone area should definitely keep their eye on water levels," said Calvin E. Meadows, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va.

The first bands of heavy rain moved east across the state last night like a giant pinwheel. Dennis should continue to weaken as it moves along the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, with the center passing near Frederick.

Officials do not expect widespread damage, but local emergency management officials are monitoring the storm as they prepare for flooding, downed trees and scattered power outages.

Throughout the summer, Maryland officials have said it would take at least a tropical storm to reverse the region's worst drought since the Great Depression.

"This is what we need. It is not going to bring us back to ground zero, but it definitely will help," said Andy Woodcock, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sterling. But because the ground is so hard and dry, a large amount of rain falling too fast would simply cause flooding.

Said Woodcock: "You don't want to get 5 inches in an hour."

George G. Balog, Baltimore's director of public works, noted that 4 inches of rain in one day would likely flood at least 100 city basements and some low-lying streets. "It is no holiday weekend for us," he said.

Balog said he expects 16 public works crews on duty today to keep drainage inlets clean and respond to other storm-related problems. Public works crews will also be monitoring water levels at the Inner Harbor and will position barriers, which look like giant building blocks, if the water rises above the sea wall.

Officer Henry McCullough, missions coordinator for Coast Guard Search and Rescue in Curtis Bay, advised boaters to stay off the water. Dennis spurred higher than usual waves for Baltimore's harbor and the Chesapeake Bay the past several days as sustained winds of 10 to 15 knots swept through the area. That, McCullough said, will likely worsen.

In Annapolis, the Anne Arundel County Emergency Management Agency planned to open a command center this morning at Fire Department headquarters, where dozens of officials will be monitoring the storm, said Emergency Management Agency director Joe Byrnes.

Last night, Byrnes and other county officials were warning Annapolis Harbor boaters to stay ashore and make sure their vessels are tightly fastened to the docks.

In North Carolina, residents of fishing villages on the marshy peninsula where the storm hit said damage from the storm yesterday was not as bad as Monday when it pounded them on its first pass.

"It's like a calm period right now," Cecile Huneycutt of Gloucester, N.C., said as the leading edge of the storm's eye passed through. "We've had a lot of rain.

"The water's everywhere," she said. "Our yards are just about under, but it's not close to getting into the house."

Mike Addertion, emergency management coordinator for Carteret County, N.C., said it appeared the worst was over once the storm made landfall.

"It's under control, I believe," Addertion said.

Nobody was sad to see Dennis go after nearly two weeks off the U.S. coast, said Stacy Stewart, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

"It's like a dripping faucet that won't quit and won't go away," Stewart said.

Dennis has been anything but a typical storm, she said.

Stewart said tropical storm force or stronger winds usually affect a single area for 12 hours or less on average. "That includes the approach, the center passing over, and retreating," she said.

"North Carolina has been getting battered for pretty close to a week."

Tropical storm warnings were in effect along much of the North Carolina shoreline, and extended north to Chincoteague, Va.

Farther north, in southeastern Virginia, an apparent tornado touched down in the city of Hampton, damaging several apartment buildings and an assisted-living center, and injuring more than a dozen people.

Another twister hit a barn and snapped utility poles in nearby Chesapeake, Va., police said.

At 11 p.m., Dennis was centered 10 miles northwest of New Bern, N.C., and was moving northwest at about 9 mph.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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