Irene whips Maryland

Hurricane cuts power to hundreds of thousands, but state avoids widespread damage, flooding

August 28, 2011|By Peter Hermann, Frank D. Roylance, Erik Maza and Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

Marylanders began cleaning up from Hurricane Irene this morning but mostly the state emerged from the storm without significant damage or widespread flooding, as feared.

Emergency officials cautioned that high winds are expected throughout the day as the storm hit New York City. They said Irene could still lead to more downed trees and power lines. And flooding in many areas, from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore, still remains possible with continued storm surges.

One death was reported in a house collapse in Queen Anne's County, and state officials are on their way this morning to southern Maryland to assess the St. Mary's Lake Dam, where they are worried it could fail.

Eddie Hopkins, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said this morning that the water levels at the dam had reached 68 feet; the dam can fail when water reaches 71 feet. No residents have been forced to leave their homes, and Hopkins said officials at this time do not expect a breech.

"We got the message out ahead of time," Hopkins said of the minimal damage. "We really weren't crying wolf. This storm had the potential of being harmful, and people took it seriously."

Between 650,000 and 700,000 customers across Maryland were without power this morning, including much of Ocean City. In the metro area, Baltimore Gas and Electric was reporting 130,000 customers without power in Baltimore County and 103,000 in Anne Arundel County. Baltimore City had about 68,000 without power.

In Ocean City, officials said they were heading out this morning to assess any damage but expected to keep access to the city closed "until a full damage assessment can be made and any unsafe conditions secured." Incoming traffic remains limited to emergency personnel.

No injuries were reported at the resort, which had been evacuated. The wastewater plant, which had been taken off line, was being restarted this morning. Officials said the eye of the hurricane passed within 50 miles of the beaches and sustained winds reached 60 mph, with a top gust reported at 80 mph.

InAnnapolis, the City Dock, which was so devasated in 2003 with Tropical Storm Isabel, sustained no flooding. Ego Alley, where boats are parked, was empty, and traffic moved easily about the city.

Across the state, Hopkins said highway crews are busy clearing downed trees and power line and were reopening roads, such as the Harry Nice Bridge into Virginia in southern Maryland. The Key Bridge is open. Hopkins said the Bay Bridge has reopened.

"We're looking at localized flooding but nothing significant that we're aware of," Hopkins said.

The Maryland State Highway Administration said that as of this morning, about 180 roads throughout the state were closed, most because of downed trees and flooding. Most were on the Eastern Shore, but dozens were also shut in central Maryland.

Officials opened the Thomas Johnson Bridge over the Patuxent River in Southern Maryland, along with the Key Bridge and the Severn River Bridge — U.S. 50 and Route 450 inAnnapolis. SHA spokeswoman Laura Rakowski said that crews are reporting a continuing cycle — as soon as some roads are reopened, others are closed.

Northbound lanes of Interstate 95 have been reopened in Cecil County after an overturned tractor trailer kept crews busy overnight, Rakowski said. U.S 1 in Baltimore County, near Kingsville and toward Perry Hall, was closed this morning because debris in the road. Also close for debris are U.S. 40 in Harford County, near Joppa Road, and Route 32 in western Howard County.

The only highway closed this morning was eastbound I-70 at Marriottsville Road, also for debris, Rakowski said.

“Fortunately, most motorists heeded the warning not to drive last night,” the highway spokeswoman said. “We are starting to see that change this morning as more folks are out. Caution is still the word. It’s best to delay travel if you can. It’s certainly not ideal conditions for driving.”

In Baltimore, MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake warned residents that wind from departing Irene will "continue to create dangers for those venturing outside." She also said that 66,000 city customers lost power in the storm.

"We know citizens are eager to get out and assess the impact of Hurricane Irene, but  we strongly encourage citizens to be extremely cautious as they begin to venture outside," the mayor said in a 6 a.m. statement.

"There are downed wires, downed trees,  hanging limbs and other dangers throughout the city," she said, "and lingering winds will continue to pose a threat to safety all day long."

Rawlings-Blake lifted parking restrictions inFells Point this morning. Vehicles towed by the city can be picked up by their owners at the city's Edison lot at the Fallsway and High street, near downtown.

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