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Maryland braces for Sandy

Preparations underway before heavy rain, winds expected to hit region Sunday night

October 28, 2012|By Jonathan Pitts and Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is coordinating response efforts to include ensuring that enough first responders are available and emergency vehicles are fueled and road-ready.

The mayor activated the city's Emergency Operations Center at 7 a.m. Sunday.

"Baltimore always hopes for the best and plans for the worst," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "This storm has the potential for Isabel-like storm surge, and I want to make sure our residents and businesses have an opportunity to prepare for possible flooding."

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said officials there had lowered the water level at Centennial Lake in anticipation of heavy rains and flooding. Releasing lake water will prevent Centennial from overflowing and flooding nearby neighborhoods, he said.

Both Ulman and Rawlings-Blake urged residents to clear leaves and other items from storm drains.

"With the level of rain and winds and leaves coming down, there will be creeks and steams that quickly back up and overflow because of storm drain blockage," Ulman said.

Ulman said the county, like other places in the Baltimore region, will release plans for emergency shelters as the storm nears. When and where there will be shelters depends on flooding and power outages. Unlike typical hurricane and tropical storm preparations, officials are looking to keep residents warm, rather than cool in the event of power outages, he said.

"Clearly, the weather is changing," Ulman said. "People can talk about why it's happening. I am on the ground trying to keep people safe in these types of events. There is no question these events are getting more intense and occurring at times of the years that we're not accustomed to."

Hurricane season typically isn't active enough every year to produce "S" named storms, said AccuWeather's Paquette.

Hurricanes and powerful tropical storms are rare for the Mid-Atlantic states in October. A review of annual summaries from the National Hurricane Center showed infrequent storms in October. Omar, a major hurricane, terrorized the Caribbean in October 2008. That same year, Hurricane Paloma hit the Caribbean, including the Cayman Islands, in November. Paloma was the second-largest Atlantic hurricane to form in November, behind Hurricane Lenny in 1999.

Hurricanes Rita and Wilma, both from 2005, were two of the only late-named major storms to ravage the U.S. coastline in the last two decades. In 2005, the year that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, storms were named from A to W before meteorologist moved on to the Greek alphabet.

Regional preparations for Sandy were under way from the National Aquarium to funeral homes.

At the National Aquarium, spokeswoman Kate Hendrickson said the staff was making plans to ensure the animals are cared for throughout the duration of the storm, including refueling generators, making sure tanks are filled with oxygen, and putting a dry ice vendor on-call. The National Aquarium has a floodgate system installed throughout the building in case of rising water, she said.

"We have animals to care for no matter the weather, and we are right on the water," Hendrickson said. "As such, we have to be prepared for a big storm. We started preparing for the storm this week and plan to continue with necessary preparations all weekend."

The aquarium's Hallowmarine event is schedule to continue Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Meanwhile Patrick Fleming, a funeral director with the Leonard J. Ruck Funeral Home in Northeast Baltimore, said his team was monitoring the storm closely.

"We can't say what we're going to do right now, but at the moment, everything is a go for Monday," Fleming said. "But if we get the predicted 80 mile per hour winds, safety becomes the most important factor for our families and we will postpone."

BGE officials continued to work to prepare for likely power outages. The utility set up a site for crews coming in from as far as New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas to assist local crews with Hurricane Sandy restoration work.

Local BGE crews assembled at one of four staging sites for out-of-town assistance crews in Lot H of M&T Bank Stadium. Chris Walls, BGE site manager, said that officials plan to dispatch about 400 workers from the M&T Stadium site. Other staging sites were set up at BWI Marshall Airport, Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen and Timonium Fairgrounds.

Local crews had moved in generators, command trailers and light towers and constructed the skeleton for an oversized tent for the workers.

Baltimore Sun reporters Scott Dance, Fred Rasmussen and Candy Thomson contributed to this report.

ywenger@baltsun.com

twitter.com/yvonnewenger

The four-day forecast

Sunday: Rain and winds 30-40 mph during the day with temperatures reaching a high of 61 degrees. Winds to pick up into the evening with speeds as high as 50 mph. An evening low of 50 is expected.

Monday: Heavy rains and strong, damaging winds 40-70 mph with a high of 56 degrees. Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall between the Delmarva Peninsula and northern New Jersey.

Tuesday: Rain and winds 20-30 mph from a downgraded Tropical Storm Sandy; a high of 51 degrees

Wednesday: Cloudy with a shower and a high of 53 degrees.

Source: AccuWeather

Useful phone numbers

Emergency: 911

Baltimore City information on preparedness: 311 or http://emergency.baltimorecity.gov/Preparedness.aspx

Baltimore Department of Public Works: 311

BGE outages and downed wires: 877.778.2222

BGE Special Needs Hotline: 877-213-2610

American Red Cross Chesapeake Region: 410-624-2000

Verizon (for downed telephone poles or power lines): 800-837-4966

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