Residents, businesses scramble to prepare for Hurricane Irene

Marylanders grab sandbags, batteries, plywood to fend off heavy rains, wind and potential flooding

August 26, 2011|By Gus G. Sentementes and Andrea Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

First, an earthquake rattled Carol Boehlein in her Southeast Baltimore rowhouse. Now Hurricane Irene is threatening to blow her windows in.

That's why Boehlein and her husband, Bernard, were at a Home Depot in Southeast Baltimore on Friday afternoon with their handyman, buying plywood. They planned to nail the boards to the windows of the house they've lived in for 40 years.

"After what happened with the earthquake," Boehlein said, "I don't take nothing for granted."

Across the Baltimore region, people were preparing for the hurricane, the brunt of which is expected to lash Maryland Saturday night and Sunday morning. Homeowners swarmed into hardware stores for batteries, tarps, duct tape and generators. Grocery stores rushed to restock shelves with staples as quickly as customers depleted them.

Many businesses said they expect to be open Saturday morning and would do most of their preparation — boarding up windows, arranging sandbags — through the early part of the day.

In Fells Point, the sound of shovels scraping on brick and concrete filled the air as shop owners and residents filled bags with sand that had been dropped into piles by the city.

"I came down when I heard sandbags were available," said Deborah Reguera, an employee at Ten Thousand Villages, a Fells Point shop. "Shoveling and bagging — sweating."

When the rain and winds get strong, "we're planning on turning off our point-of-sale systems, and we're planning on shutting off our" electricity, said Lindsay Shanklin, manager of the Daily Grind coffee shop on Thames Street, on the Fells Point waterfront. "Anything that's cold is going to go into our big walk-in freezer so we can maintain its temperature."

At the Southeast Baltimore Home Depot, generators were temporarily out of stock Friday afternoon. Store employees had arranged blue tarps, sealant, duct tape and buckets near the cash registers for shoppers to find with ease.

Nick Spyridakos, operations manager, said homeowners are scrambling to patch any holes and leaks in their roofs before the hurricane brings its torrential downpour.

"There are a lot of leaks getting repaired right now," Spyridakos said.

In Annapolis, many low-lying businesses proudly display a photo from the Chesapeake Bay's surge in Tropical Storm Isabel that shows the area looking like islands in a sea.

At City Dock in Annapolis' Historic District, some people waited more than an hour Friday afternoon with hand trucks for the next sandbag delivery. When a city truck arrived, business operators and residents swarmed around the 300 sandbags it dropped off.

Hatchbacks popped up on more than a dozen vehicles, amid cries of "They're here!" Police officers announced limits of six sandbags per person and 10 bags for each business.

In Market House, vendors who haven't even been there long were making plans to move their foods.

"We'll clear out everything, pretty much, and take it all to West Annapolis, to our other business location," said Erica Lucente, niece of the owner of bb bistro. Refrigerated display cases will be wrapped in plastic in hopes of shielding the bottom from rising waters.

Outside Annapolis, the family-operated Bowen's Farm Supply was cleaned out of even the smallest items, such as oil lamp wicks.

"We are sold out of everything," said Amy Bowen, who works at the store. "Sandbags, sand, generators, chain saws — all gone. We may get some more" on Saturday.

Major supermarkets in the Baltimore area increased staff and were busy restocking shelves. The Baltimore area's 35 Safeway stores are expected to operate during normal hours during the storm and will use generators if the power goes out.

"We intend to stay open as much as possible," said spokesman Greg Teneyck. "Some stores will be harder hit than others."

Giant is increasing deliveries to its stores as people clear the shelves of items such as bottled water, milk, candles and batteries. Jamie Miller, a company spokesman, said he expects the crowds to continue as the storm approaches.

"We've been working around the clock to keep our stores as well stocked as possible," he said.

Miller said the grocer has contingency plans to keep stores open during and after the storm when there could be power outages, but he added that everything will be decided on a case-by case basis. The store has generators to keep the fronts of stores open if the power goes out.

Giant stores will use dry ice to keep frozen and refrigerated foods cool. If the power outages are prolonged, the grocer will be able to truck in larger generators, Miller said.

For many Marylanders who live on or near the waterfront, the preparations for Hurricane Irene inevitably dredged up memories of property damage during the last significant storm to hit the region, Tropical Storm Isabel, in 2003.

At the Annapolis dock, Richard Buss, a retired Navy captain who lives at the water's edge in that city, waited with his daughter, Marjorie Rock, for sandbags. He recalled his basement filling with 4 feet of murky floodwater in Isabel, when he lost $12,000 worth of contents.

On the positive side, he got new appliances, and was forced to clean out piles of things he'd been storing. He hopes some sandbags this time around will act as a barrier, but he's not overly concerned.

"If the basement gets wet," he said with a shrug, "it's the basement."

Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea K. Walker contributed to this article.

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