Md. braces for heavy weather

Downpour, High winds tidal surges and floods expected in state today

State of emergency declared


Marylanders braced today for torrential rains, high winds, pounding surf and bayshore flooding as Hurricane Floyd bore down on the state after crashing ashore early this morning in North Carolina.

Tropical storm warnings were posted from Baltimore County south to Southern Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay north of the Virginia line, the entire Eastern Shore and Ocean City. Sustained winds are expected to reach 40 to 50 mph today in Baltimore, and 50 to 70 mph on the Shore with higher gusts. Twenty-foot surf was likely at the beaches.

The threat of damage from high winds and flooding prompted Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to declare a state of emergency.

"I urge all Marylanders to take common-sense precautions, so that we can quickly take action to protect lives when the storm heads our way," he said.

Rain bands from Floyd began soaking the region yesterday morning, and topped 1 inch before nightfall in some areas. Precipitation was expected to intensify in showers and thunderstorms today, and could trigger flash flooding before the storm departs tomorrow. Forecasters said 5 to 8 inches of rain is possible before it's over.

The storm surge and high winds could push today's high tides in the upper bay 2 to 3 feet above normal, with 4- to 6-foot surges south of Calvert County. Heavy surf will batter exposed shorelines, forecasters said.

Rural St. Mary's County was preparing to bear the worst of Floyd between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. today, when the center of the greatly weakened storm was expected to pass over the southern tip of the county at the Potomac River bearing 40 to 60 mph winds, heavy rains and storm surge.

County and American Red Cross officials plan to open two hurricane shelters this morning -- a middle school in Spring Ridge and a high school in Great Mills. Together, the schools can hold about 1,000 people.

A sign outside Cook's Liquor and Grocery on Route 5 read: "Help us Lord, here comes Floyd."

Many school systems announced closings for today.

The governor's emergency declaration put the Maryland National Guard and state police on alert. Leave time and vacations were canceled for all 1,614 state troopers. The state's Emergency Operations Center in Pikesville was expected to be fully staffed by 6 a.m. today.

Most counties were delaying evacuation decisions until the storm's impact became clearer. But voluntary evacuations were under way late yesterday on low-lying Smith Island in Maryland and on Tangier Island in Virginia.

Dozens of Smith Island residents began heading for the mainland yesterday, piling aboard mail boats, Coast Guard and state Natural Resources Police vessels. By late afternoon, nearly one-third of the Chesapeake Bay island's 350 residents had sailed for the mainland.

Birthday boat ride

A Coast Guard cutter carried evacuees from Tangier Island, including 6-year-old Mikayla Evans. Her 12-mile journey across churning Tangier Sound could form an indelible birthday memory.

Clutching her mother's arm as the sturdy boat plowed along at 24 knots through 3- to 4-foot waves, the girl was headed for a celebration at her grandparents' house in Mardela Springs.

Her mother, Dana Evans, 35, pregnant with her second child, said she had few second thoughts about leaving her husband, Billy John, to ride out the storm.

"He's a die-hard islander, but I am from the mainland," Evans said.

Shelters opened on the Eastern Shore overnight for residents fleeing low-lying communities and mobile home parks.

Visitors were evacuated yesterday from the low-lying Pocomoke River State Forest in Worcester County and Janes Island State Park in Somerset County.

Ocean City battens down

No evacuation orders were issued yesterday in Ocean City, but that could change today if forecasts of heavy rain, 20-foot surf and sustained winds of 60 mph prove accurate.

"We're telling our residents to secure their homes, batten down their hatches and stay in touch," said the resort's emergency management director, Clay Stamp.

Forecasts late yesterday said Floyd was expected to cross into Virginia around 2 p.m. today. It was expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm, with sustained winds under 74 mph by the time it reaches Maryland.

The center of the storm was forecast to cross the Chesapeake Bay at the Virginia line, and pass just west of Salisbury by 11 p.m. before charging on into Delaware.

Michelle Margraf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., said as the storm moves north toward the Chesapeake, east and southeast winds on the storm's dangerous northeast quadrant will push water up the bay.

The storm surge will add 4 to 6 feet to the high tides south of Anne Arundel County, expected at 9: 35 a.m. and 11: 01 p.m. today.

High tides at Baltimore will be 2 to 3 feet above normal, with flooding in low-lying spots. High tide in Baltimore is expected at 11: 39 a.m. today.

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