Massive storm Sandy delivers high winds and torrential rain

Storm destroys downtown pier in Ocean City

October 29, 2012|By Scott Dance, Mary Gail Hare and Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

As Sandy pounds the mid-Atlantic coast Monday, the Baltimore region is bracing for gale-force winds and flooding.

The area remains under a flood watch through Tuesday evening, with coastal flooding expected late Monday into Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy rain, as much as six inches, and high winds, with gusts as much as 70 miles per hour, will occur throughout Monday afternoon and well into Tuesday, according to forecasters.

Mandatory travel restrictions will be imposed in Baltimore at 6 p.m. on Monday and stay in effect until noon on Tuesday, banning driving on city streets for everyone but emergency personnel. While city officials don't plan to put up barricades, they warned that drivers could be pulled over by a police officer.

"Our number one priority during the storm period is public safety," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "We need folks to stay off the roads so that our first responders can focus 100 percent on real emergency incidents as they may occur. We are working closely with our hospitals and medical providers to ensure that their employees have safe routes to work."

Gov. Martin O'Malley warned of the danger of the storm Monday. "There will be people who will die and are killed in this storm," the governor said while visiting the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. "Stay off the roads, hunker down with your families."

He said his blunt talk was designed to "truthfully identify this as a killer storm" so people stay off the roads and inside.

"My biggest concern is the potential loss of life," O'Malley continued. "This will be unlike any storm we've had."

O'Malley ordered bridges closed by 2:30 p.m. Monday: the Bay Bridge and the Hatem bridge. He also canceled early voting on Tuesday.

The governor said Sandy's wind gusts saw increases to 90 mph, necessitating the closures.

Ocean City's downtown pier has been heavily damaged overnight, town officials confirmed, as Hurricane Sandy pounds the shores with massive surf.

Town police spokesman Michael Levy said there is extensive damage to the pier, though webcams show some of the structure still standing. Town officials will provide more details at a press conference Monday.

The pier sits at the southern end of the Boardwalk, in the area south of 17th Street under a mandatory evacuation since Sunday afternoon because of flooding.

Wind gusts of up to 50 mph were recorded in the Ocean City inlet near the pier overnight Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Storm surge was expected to reach 8 feet in the height of the storm late Monday into Tuesday, with wind gusts likely to reach hurricane force of at least 75 mph. The storm made landfall in New Jersey at approximately 8 p.m. Monday night.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Monday afternoon that impending weather conditions prompted city government to close for the remainder of the day Monday, and on Tuesday. She said she anticipates having to announce mandatory travel restrictions as the storm grows stronger through the evening.

"Our number one focus continues to be public safety," Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference held at the city's emergency management headquarters on Calvert Street. "We fully expect weather conditions to deteriorate rapidly going into this afternoon and this evening."

Rawlings-Blake urged residents to stay at home, and said that should motorists reach any standing water, they should err on the side of safety.

"We will reach a point in this storm this evening where people will have to stay off the roads completely," she said. "Hunker down at home and ride out this storm."

"Turn around," she added. "Don't drown."

She also warned residents that it was, "extremely likely that tens of thousands of residents will lose power this evening," and that the city would work with BGE to help clear debris and restore power — as long as it wasn't dangerous for workers.

She also assured that the city's emergency personnel were at maximum capacity and able to respond to any incidents, including more than 2,000 police officers who are working overnight, all special operation teams on hand, more than 350 firefighters and paramedics staffing units across the city, and federal resources, including National Guard Humvees that she said were deployed with police and strategically placed throughout the city.

Rawlings-Blake said that she could not anticipate what the worst case scenario would be, but assured that the city was prepared.

"My emergency personnel are very creative, we don't want to get into the worst-case scenario," she said. "This can go in all different types of directions, and wherever it goes, we're prepared."

Traffic on major arteries was light early Monday as motorists apparently heeded warnings to stay off roads as Hurricane Sandy slopped into the region.

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