A milder Ernesto slides along coast

Thousands lose power

hundreds flee rising water

September 02, 2006|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Sun reporter

Weakened but still destructive, Ernesto swept up the Chesapeake Bay overnight, causing flooding that forced evacuations of some low-lying coastal communities and leaving more than 100,000 Marylanders without power.

Though Ernesto was only a tropical depression by the time it reached Maryland, the storm's wind and rains nevertheless raked much of the state. The brunt of the storm hit the lower Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland, but it also lashed Anne Arundel County.

Storm surges were expected to cause further coastal flooding closer to midnight, because tides were expected to crest several feet above normal.

Officials in St. Mary's County ordered the evacuation of a few hundred homes in three low-lying communities and asked for the voluntary evacuation of 17 others. Residents were directed to a shelter that opened yesterday at Leonardtown High School.

About 3.39 inches of rain fell at St. Mary's Patuxent Naval Air Station last night. Winds gusted to 40 miles an hour.

In Anne Arundel County, three dozen roads were blocked last night by fallen limbs, downed power lines or floodwaters, said Pam Jordan, county spokeswoman. Annapolis was hit by 50-mph winds.

BGE reported that more than 99,000 of its customers were without power around midnight, the bulk of them in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

By early evening, the storm had cut off electricity to more than 50,000 Delmarva Power customers in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, a spokesman said. PEPCO, which serves the Washington area, reported that more than 40,000 customers had lost electric service late last night.

Utility officials said it could be tonight or even tomorrow morning before power is restored to many homes.

High winds blew down utility lines in Ocean City, disrupting traffic there while also causing flooding along Delmarva's Atlantic coast.

Unexpected island

At Indian River Bay, north of Bethany Beach, residents of a peninsula found themselves stranded on an island last night as water covered the only road out and kept rising.

"This is worst I've seen it since 1962," said Robert Galbusera Jr. (The worst storm of 1962 wasn't even a hurricane; it was a nor'easter that hit on Ash Wednesday and caused extensive damage along the Mid-Atlantic Coast. )

Galbusera, 65, said his home was built to withstand winds of up to 110 mph. Ernesto's winds were making his house quiver and rock slightly back and forth.

"It's supposed to do that," he said.

About 5,000 homes were without power in Wicomico County as of about 7 p.m., said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

Snow Hill in Worcester County had received some of the heaviest rain, recording 7 inches by about 7 p.m. Wicomico County had recorded 5.6 inches of rain; Somerset had 5.9.

West hit later

Closer to Baltimore, the rains came later. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had received just 1.35 inches by 11 p.m.

A spokesman said that the storm had caused only a few delayed flights.

In Annapolis, city officials prepared hundreds of sandbags, bracing for a storm surge of up to 5 feet. The bags were placed in front of doors of businesses clustered around the City Dock.

As midnight approached, the water rose to shin-deep in the parking area by the dock.

High tide was expected around 1 a.m.

At Venice on the Bay, in northern Anne Arundel County, Bay Street was flooded and waves pounded along the bulkhead, sending spray shooting more than 10 feet in the air. Officials predicted that the tide could crest above normal between midnight and 1 a.m.

Officials in northern Maryland took precautions as well. The Maryland State Fair shut its gates in Timonium at 6 p.m. in anticipation of the storm.

By the time Ernesto reached the upper bay, it had lost much of its punch. Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that by late evening, the rainfall was tapering off.

"It's light to moderate rain across eastern and Central Maryland, and that's going to be petering out," he said.

No problems

Mayor Robert Flahart of Port Deposit, on the Susquehanna in Cecil County, prepared for the storm at the Backfin Blues Bar & Grill. "We've been tracking this storm and we don't anticipate any problems," he said.

Exelon Generation, which runs the Conowingo Dam, said it planned to open only five of its floodgates today. Flahart said that the river doesn't cause flooding in his town until 28 of the floodgates open.

Winds gusted to 67 mph at the Rappahannock Light in Virginia's portion of the Chesapeake Bay yesterday afternoon.

BWI reported wind gusts to 37 mph during the afternoon.

And Washington's Reagan National Airport clocked a 45-mph gust.

As if on cue, a handful of hard-core practitioners showed up yesterday with their surfboards at Delaware Seashore State Park.

Guy Serman and Scott Steverson, both of Millsboro, Del., spent about 30 minutes trying to catch waves in an ocean of churning white water.

Surf's way up

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