Schools close as region prepares for Hurricane Sandy -- Gazette.Net


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For the latest weather forecast and information on the storm, go to www.nbcwashington.com.

This story was updated at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 28, 2012.

Area power companies are mobilizing crews in preparation for Hurricane Sandy, which could reach the area sometime early next week. Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency in Maryland on Friday, which allows the state to help local jurisdictions in preparing for and responding to the storm.

Montgomery County Public Schools have canceled school Monday and Tuesday, according to an alert sent out Sunday. This includes school and community after-school events. The administrative offices are slated to be closed on Monday.

Prince George’s Public Schools will operate under a Yellow Alert on Monday, meaning that school is closed for all but emergency personnel, according to an email alert sent Sunday.

Frederick County Public Schools have also cancelled all classes and activities for Monday, according to the website.

Montgomery College has also cancelled all classes and activities Monday and Tuesday.

According to the National Weather Service, Sandy is moving through the Bahamas, but is expected to pass east of the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Monday morning, and then turn to the west and make landfall somewhere between the southern tip of the Chesapeake Bay and New Jersey.

“We are still 72 hours out, so there could be about [200] to 300 miles difference in the landfall,” said Steve Goldstein, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “By Sunday, we should know exactly where it’s going to land.”

Pepco is calling the storm an “all hands-on” event, said Dave Velazquez, executive vice president for power delivery for Pepco Holdings Inc. He spoke at a news conference Friday afternoon at the Pepco Control Center in Bethesda.

The utility service has about 150 permanent line personnel and about 300 tree-trimming personnel for the area, Velazquez said. The utility has asked for 2,500 line personnel and 400 tree trimmers. So far, about 400 and 350 respectively have committed to the area from other service areas in the country as of Friday morning, he said.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. is preparing 1,300 storm and field personnel, as well as coordinating with out-of-state mutual assistance crews in preparation for the potential impact on BGE’s central Maryland service area late this weekend and early next week, said Rachael Lighty, BGE spokeswoman.

The company plans to hire 2,000 out-of-state mutual assistance workers including linesmen and tree contractors, she said.

Officials at Edison FirstEnergy, the operator of Potomac Edison, said the utility company has more than 700 crews ready to make repairs in the face of power outages from the storm, according to a news release.

Customers who lose power should call 1-888-544-4877 or use the “Report Outage” button on www.firstenergycorp.com via smartphone.

The Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg has been selected as Pepco’s staging area, Velazquez said, and other staging areas will be made for Prince George’s County and the District. First priority for power restoration, he said, will go to larger service areas, and hospitals, nursing homes and other emergency care areas will be the next priority.

Depending on how the storm develops, Hurricane Sandy may affect early voting, which starts Saturday and runs through Thursday. In the event of an emergency, election law says an election can be postponed, alternate voting locations can be used or alternative voting systems used.

Because of the storm, School Superintendent Joshua P. Starr has canceled Monday’s Community Day events planned in the Damascus, Gaithersburg, Magruder and Watkins Mill clusters. This includes the town hall meeting with parents. The events have been rescheduled for Nov. 29.

Parents can stay updated by signing up to receive alerts from the school system, by visiting www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/emergencies. During emergencies, call 301-279-3573 for information. If power and cable are available, updates are posted on Verizon Fios Channel 36, Comcast Channel 34 and RCN Channel 89, along with major local news outlets.

Montgomery College students should make sure that they are signed up for alerts by visiting www.montgomerycollege.edu and searching for “mcalert,” spokesman Marcus Rosano said.

Metro riders can get storm updates via MetroAlerts (wmata.com/metroalerts), online at wmata.com/sandy and via Twitter @wmata.

Metro is planning to place sandbags around locations where water can infiltrate. All drainage pumping stations are being checked in advance, according to the Metro website advisory. Chainsaws will be deployed in Metro motor vehicles for use in the event of downed trees.

Sandy is expected to collide with a cold front moving in from the west, at about the same time it moves into the area. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency is warning that coastal areas are expected to see waves higher than normal. Garrett and Allegany counties in western Maryland could see heavy snow. Winds and rain from the storm are expected to linger over the area for up to 48 hours.

Customers can prepare for the storm by keeping an adequate supply of their prescription medications, knowing where there are places for emergency power for life support equipment and assembling an emergency kit, said Thomas H. Graham, president for the Pepco region.

The kit, he said, should include a battery-powered television or radio, first aid equipment, extra batteries, an insulated cooler, a list of emergency contact numbers, food, water and a cord phone or cell phone. Customers have been instructed to use surge protectors for electronics and turn off power to flood-prone electronics in the home, Graham said.

He said crews will be working 16-hour shifts and Pepco will be working 24 hours a day to restore power to its coverage area.

Pepco hopes to restore power to customers as quickly and safely as possible, Graham said. Outages can be reported on Pepco’s website, Facebook page or Twitter account (@PepcoConnect), or through its free mobile app. Customers are also urged to stay away from — and report — downed wires to its call center at 877-737-2662.

Velazquez said that crews cannot use bucket trucks when winds have sustained speeds of more than 35 mph.

The Bethesda Urban Partnership, a nonprofit that provides maintenance and marketing for downtown Bethesda, has all essential personnel ready to activate, said Dave Dabney, the organization’s executive director, in an email. Generators, chain saws and other tools are working and ready to go, gas cans and trucks are filled, and park furniture has been secured or brought indoors, he said. BUP will be on call for Montgomery County Police Department’s second district, which includes Bethesda.

Chevy Chase Village notified residents the Village Public Works Department and the village’s contract tree crew will be on standby this weekend and early next week in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy. Village officials encouraged residents to keep storm drains clear by not raking leaves into the roadway. To mitigate the danger of flooding, the Village Public Works Department is working to clear stormdrains and collect as many leaf piles as possible.

The Town of Chevy Chase is monitoring Hurricane Sandy and doing tree work to remove hazardous conditions that were identified by the town arborist. Town residents can sign up for Alert TOCC, a voice message broadcast service that notifies subscribers with a phone call regarding service interruptions or town responses to emergency situations, according to the town website. Messages will typically be sent during office hours. To sign up, go to www.townofchevychase.org/c/363.

For updates about closures and important phone numbers in Rockville, spokeswoman Marylou Berg said people should check the city’s website at www.rockvillemd.gov.

The city’s Twitter feed, @Rockville411, and Facebook page, City of Rockville, will also have emergency information.

“[Social media] is a really good source for is if the power goes out, because people who still have smartphones can still see that,” Berg said.

The traffic signals operated by the city also have backup batteries that will work for eight to 12 hours if Rockville loses power, and city police are rearranging their staffing to handle a higher volume of calls.

“We’re expecting, with the winds and everything, there could be ... road closures due to trees and debris,” Berg said.

People can also sign up for the Alert Rockville system, which sends emergency notifications to cell phones, email addresses and pagers, at alert.rockvillemd.gov.

Rhonda D. Jackson, division manager for public relations and intergovernmental relations for the Prince George’s County Office of Homeland Security, said the county is working to get its Emergency Operations Center in Landover Hills fully operational by Saturday.

“We’re encouraging residents to follow us via Notify Me Prince George’s, as well as on Facebook and Twitter,” Jackson said. “And as we get into the height of the storm, we’ll be focusing on directing non-emergency calls to our 3-1-1 system.”

Jackson said residents can sign up for real-time updates to their mobile phones at www.notifyme.princegeorgescountymd.gov.county officials are asking residents to prepare three days of water and food for each member of a household, as well as create an emergency plan with areas to meet if family members are separated.

Seamus Mooney, Frederick County’s director of emergency preparedness, said the Department of Public Works was at work clearing out ditches along the road to make sure they’re free of debris, while the county Health Department was visiting nursing homes to ensure they are prepared, Mooney said.

“It’s just overall general preparedness stuff,” Mooney said. “We just make sure all the stuff we’re relying on is in good order. We’ve checked the chainsaws, and they’ve loaded the grappling equipment in case they have to move trees.”

Staff writers Jessica Ablamsky, Holly Nunn, Tripp Laino, Erich Wagner and Elizabeth Waibel contributed to this report.