Slightly weaker, but still a big, wet and dangerous storm, Hurricane Irene hit the North Carolina beaches early Saturday en route to a battened-down Delmarva Peninsula.
The state of Maryland, Anne Arundel County, and the cities of Baltimore, Annapolis and Ocean City declared states of emergency. A mandatory evacuation was under way in Ocean City, and local authorities urged residents in other flood-prone neighborhoods to clear out before the storm strikes.
"This storm has made landfall," Gov. Martin O'Malley said at midafternoon Friday. "Evacuations are going well from Ocean City. There are some holiday-style backups reported."
He urged residents not to delay leaving low-lying areas of Wicomico and Queen Anne's counties.
"Anybody who thinks that this is a normal hurricane and that they can just stick it out is being both selfish, stupid and also diverting essential public safety assets away from the task at hand, which is safeguarding lives and getting people out of the way," O'Malley said. "It is the height of selfishness for people not to evacuate."
O'Malley said the Bay Bridge would likely remain open until the early evening hours Saturday. "But don't wait until 3 p.m. to load your family in the station wagon and head to the bridge."
Hurricane-force winds were expected at Ocean City by late Saturday evening, continuing for several hours. Sustained winds of 55 to 65 mph, with gusts to 85 mph, were forecast overnight into Sunday.
The Eastern Shore could see 6 inches to 12 inches of rain. A storm surge, combined with high tide and a new moon, could produce a "worst-case" inundation of 4 feet to 8 feet, the National Weather Service said. Particularly vulnerable are Ocean City, Wachapreague, Va., and locations facing the Chesapeake Bay.
In Baltimore and the Western Shore, a tropical storm warning was in effect. Forecasters said sustained tropical storm winds should begin Saturday evening. Maximum winds could reach 35 mph to 45 mph, with gusts to 65 mph.
While the streets may be dry this morning, forecasters warn that we'll see rainfall totals of 2 to 5 inches during the storm, with some higher totals - 6 to 8 inches - along the Western Shore of the Chesapeake.
A flash-flood watch was in place on the Western Shore from Baltimore County to Southern Maryland. Baltimore and other Western Shore communities might see a modest storm surge of just 1 to 3 feet overnight into Sunday.
The Maryland Transit Administration will temporarily suspend services Saturday evening. Light rail will stop operating at 6 p.m. to give personnel time to secure gate arms and other equipment before the brunt of the storm arrives. Bus and Metro subway will cease operations at 9 p.m. Mobility will accommodate only scheduled medical trips after 9 p.m. Inter County Connector Bus service will be suspended at 9 p.m.
Wherever people take shelter from the wind and rain Saturday and Saturday night, they may find the lights are out. BGE said more than 500,000 customers could lose power Saturday afternoon as high winds bring down branches, trees and wires. Outages could last for days. The utility has 3,700 workers standing by for repairs.
Hurricane Irene howled ashore in North Carolina with heavy winds, rain and surf on Saturday on a path threatening the densely populated U.S. East Coast with flooding and power outages.
The eye of the storm crossed the North Carolina coast near Cape Lookout around 7:30 a.m., forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Irene was moving north-northeast along the coast and was expected to remain a hurricane as it hit the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday night and New England on Sunday.
With winds of 85 miles per hour, Irene had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, but forecasters warned that it remained a large and dangerous storm.
Baltimore residents woke up Saturday to a humid day and continued their storm preparations.
By 8 a.m. in Fells Point, vendors like One Straw Farm and Bonaparte Breads were selling produce and pastries in the square like they always do on Saturday mornings. But the action was at the foot of Broadway where the city had dumped a few small mountains of sand. There, people were making sandbags, which they hoped would keep water from their homes and businesses.
Quite a few shops and residences along Broadway and Thames, where flood risk is high, had already stacked dozens of them at their thresholds.
At The Daily Grind coffee shop, patrons sat outside, sipping coffee. But in the spot where passersby with dogs can usually buy coffee without entering the restaurant with their animals, the "doggy window" was closed, with an apology taped to it. "Word is," it said, "a hurricane is comin'."
The Maryland State Fair reiterated Saturday morning that the fair and thoroughbred horse racing will be open, but officials are monitoring conditions. The 4-H/FFA Livestock Sale has been postponed, however.