State braces for Hanna

4-7 inches of rain, 40 mph winds due

September 06, 2008|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,frank.roylance@baltsun.com

Marylanders were tying down and tightening up yesterday as they braced for the heavy wind, torrential rain and high water predicted to arrive today with Tropical Storm Hanna, the first such storm to menace the state since Ernesto in 2006.

Forecasters warned residents to prepare for winds today in excess of 40 mph, with 4 to 7 inches of rain; 3 to 5 feet of storm surge and "battering waves" before Hanna races off to the Northeast this evening.

Light rain began falling in Baltimore about 8:30 last night, signaling the storm's approach.

The National Weather Service posted tropical storm warnings. The governor expanded an emergency declaration to cover the entire state. State and local authorities opened their emergency operations centers, launched their hurricane plans and readied their shelters amid a flurry of snow-day-like cancellations, postponements and closings across the region as Hanna swirled up the coast.

"All in all, people are taking this storm very seriously," said Samantha Irwin, manager of the 160-slip Point Lookout Marina in St. Mary's County, where dozens of boat owners were busy yesterday moving their boats or checking their lines, and removing anything that might fly away.

"Ernesto blew the roof off one of our big covered docks," Irwin said. "You just really don't know what to expect. You have to be prepared in all aspects."

In Annapolis, the Ultimate Crab Soup Cook-Off, scheduled to heat up today under tents at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, was postponed until Nov. 22. Karma O'Neill, the event's co-chairman, said the pop-up tents "would in a sense be turning into umbrellas, Mary Poppins-style."

In Baltimore, city officials urged residents of Fells Point and other flood-prone areas to move valuable items from basements and remove cars parked on streets close to the water. Vulnerable areas, such as Key Highway and Thames Street, will be posted and cars found parked there may be towed.

After dawdling all week near the Bahamas, Hanna was gathering strength late yesterday and taking aim at the Carolina coast, with landfall expected early this morning near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Top sustained winds at the storm's center reached 70 mph, just below hurricane strength. Tropical storm winds extended as far as 300 miles from the center.

Flash flood watches were posted for all of Maryland except the westernmost counties. The tropical storm wind warnings were canceled north and west of the Interstate 95 corridor but remained in force late yesterday to the south and east. Forecasters expect winds today at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to increase to 32 to 37 mph, with higher gusts.

The Maryland Transportation Authority said yesterday it had no "immediate" plans to close any bridges because of the storm. But wind warnings, restrictions or closures could be imposed as conditions warrant, officials said.

The biggest threat to the region might be rain. The National Weather Service said 4 to 7 inches were possible along the storm's path. Baltimore was expected to receive 3 to 4 inches today, and another three-quarters of an inch tonight before the fast-moving storm shifts northeast.

Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday expanded his earlier "Pre-Disaster Declaration of Emergency" to include all jurisdictions across the state.

The declaration allows the state to pre-deploy National Guard troops, seek federal aid and reimbursement and ask other states for help through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

The region could use some rain. Less than an inch and a half has fallen at BWI since Aug. 1. But 4 inches in less than 24 hours means most of what falls will run off quickly. Stream volumes have been low, so main-stem river flooding was not expected. But small-stream and urban flooding are likely today as tropical downpours overwhelm storm drains and smaller creeks.

Anne Arundel County authorities were monitoring low-lying areas that have suffered severe flooding in the past, such as Bayside in Pasadena and Shadyside and Deale in the southern area of the county.

In Annapolis, officials planned to distribute some 700 sandbags to residents and business owners. They were available at the 2nd Street pumping station in Eastport and outside the city harbor master's office in downtown Annapolis at the City Dock.

"Our priorities are to have our personnel ready for the aftermath and to keep the public informed," said County Executive John R. Leopold. "Storms like this are very unpredictable, so we are proceeding with the utmost caution."

In Baltimore County, residents of the bayside community of Bowleys Quarters - hard-hit by Tropical Storm Isabel's storm surge in 2003 - said rebuilding their battered homes on 12-foot stilts after the cleanup made them feel more confident about facing Hanna.

"People feel more secure, but I'm sure everybody's taking up their lawn furniture and putting it inside," said Kim Sullivan, who lost her rancher, three vehicles and two boats to Isabel.

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