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This story was updated at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 29.
Hurricane Sandy is “intensifying” as it comes closer to making landfall, Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a press conference Monday afternoon.
“There are going to be lots of felled trees, lots of poles down,” O’Malley said.
After creeping north from Cuba off the Atlantic Coast Sunday and most of Monday, Sandy is expected to make a hard left and crash into the New Jersey shore and the Delmarva Peninsula sometime in the overnight hours Monday, according to National Weather Service projections. All of Maryland is expected to experience heavy rain and winds Monday and Tuesday, with blizzards possible in Garrett County as Sandy merges with a cold front from the west.
“This is unlike any storm we’ve had to weather,” O’Malley said, warning people to stay off the roads for the next 24 to 36 hours. “The more responsible people act, the fewer will die.”
Maryland State Police are also urging people to stay off the roads for the rest of the day Monday. Although officers will not ticket drivers for travelling, they are recommending that everyone except emergency vehicles stay off the road, according to a press release.
As the storm moves closer, winds are expected to pick up, with winds expected to be 30-55 mph in the Baltimore area, with gusts up to 70 mph starting Monday afternoon and evening, said Brandon Peloquin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
In a press conference Monday afternoon, Pepco President Thomas Graham warned that the hurricane would put a strain on trees.
“The combination of heavy rain saturating the grounds...with sustained winds, at that level, start to bring trees down,” he said.
Though crews have done “aggressive” tree trimming in Montgomery County, Graham said, there are still large trees that could fall.
“There is no overhead electric system designed not only to handle a tree of that size falling, but to sustain winds [expected from Sandy],” he said.
Graham advised residents to stay away from downed lines and report them to Pepco.
Courtney Nogas, a spokeswoman for Pepco, said Pepco has requested the assistance of 3,700 utility workers from around the region to aid in restoration efforts following the storm, the largest number of crews that have been requested in company history, she said.
“That’s huge and it just shows the magnitude that we’re dealing with,” she said.
As of 8:30 p.m., Pepco reported about 4,027 customers without power in Montgomery County and about 3847 in Prince George’s.
“The area is expected to be severely impacted. Customers should be prepared to have prolonged power outages,” Nogas said.
Bob Hainey, a spokesman for Pepco, recommends local residents keep a three-day supply of nonperishable foods and bottled water ready, in the event of a power outage.
Maintenance crews from across the country are stationed at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in preparation for Hurricane Sandy, he said.
Potomac Edison’s website listed about 11,408 customers without power in Frederick and about 500 without power in Montgomery as of 8:30 p.m. BGE reported 1,946 outages in Montgomery and 3,300 in Prince George’s as of 8:30 p.m.
Nogas said customers should report downed power lines and power outages though response crews are only able to go out when wind speeds are below 35 mph.
Scott Peterson, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County executive’s office, said sandbags have been placed around the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, which houses the county’s new centralized 311 call center.
Stephen Sonnett, president of the Town of Upper Marlboro Board of Commissioners, said Tuesday afternoon that the water level was “rising rapidly,” and that the Water Street bridge in town would likely be completely underwater by 4 p.m.
Mark Brady, chief spokesman for Prince George’s County’s fire/EMS department, said the department has set up a department operation center for command staff to track the storm’s progress and coordinate emergency responders.
“We’re keeping an eye and finger on every aspect of fire and EMS,” Brady said. “We have upstaffed technical rescue stations including our swift water rescue teams since we’re going to be looking at some flooding and flash flooding.”
In addition to the county’s fire/EMS department, the county’s police department has said its patrol officers will be working overtime for the next two days and investigative and sworn personnel are in uniform prepared to assist with traffic direction and other assignments as necessary, said Julie Parker, a police spokeswoman.
Some municipalities throughout Prince George’s have set up their own command centers to monitor potential damages and storm impacts in their own towns and cities.
Mount Rainier Police Chief Michael Scott said a command center that will coordinate emergency services for the city has been set up at their police station on Rhode Island Avenue, and will be in operation until the hurricane is over, he said.
Edmonston Police Chief Stephen Walker said he and the city’s six police officers, a police clerk, town administrator Guy Tiberio and two public works officials will be at the town’s police station to respond to emergencies in the town.
The officials will head out about once every hour to check on the town’s pumping station located near the Anacostia River, renovations of which in recent years have been crucial to ensuring that the town not does not experience flooding, he said.
Hurricane Sandy comes to the region nearly four months after the June 29 derecho hit, causing $7.3 million in damages including previous tallies from a microburst that damaged some homes and apartments in northern Prince George’s.
Some area businesses are still recovering from June’s inclement weather, said Kelly Pierce, executive director of the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce and a lifelong city resident.
“Everybody is concerned. Everybody is hoping we’re not out of power for a long time,” she said. “The threat of power outages is always a concern to businesses. It shuts you down and limits the business you can do.“
Other officials say previous storms have helped prepare businesses and residents for storms such as Hurricane Sandy.
“I think a lot of businesses after the derecho and other storms, a lot of businesses have gotten back up generators,” said Bowie resident Michael Ahearn, the city’s economic development committee chairman. “I think a lot of the businesses are better prepared. I think BGE is better prepared. This thing is looking to be so massive it will make the derecho look like a cupcake.”
One of the county’s emergency facilities is open in Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, at 506 South Frederick Ave.. Terrilyn Lahs, Facilities and Administration Division Chief for the City of Gaithersburg, said 17 people were in the shelter as of Monday evening. It has a capacity of several hundred, she said.
The Red Cross has provided cots, basic personal care kits and some food and water for those who come to the shelter.
“We do have several families here, so we provide some games to occupy the kids,” Lahs said.
The facility is equipped with an emergency generator, but it has limited functions. The generator only powers phones, emergency lights and similar necessities, she said.
As for how long the shelter will stay open, Lahs said they’re playing it by ear.
“The next 12 hours will dictate a lot of what will happen,” she said.
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner released a statement Monday morning about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on Pepco and the county itself.
“I feel confident that our county has prepared as well as we can for this storm,” Berliner said. However, Pepco is receiving fewer crews than requested, because of the strain the storm is putting on northeastern states, he said. The utility will have about 2,000 workers at its disposal, according to the statement, but due to winds, crews may not be able to make repairs for a day and a half. Berliner recommends being prepared.
“Take care of your families, look in on your neighbors, and cross your fingers,” he said.
Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz and Acting City Manager Tony Tomasello declared a state of emergency in the city. City staff will be on hand at the county’s shelter at Bohrer Park, Katz said.
Lorie Powell, 43, of Derwood, an office manager at a plastic surgeon’s office, said she went into the office briefly on Monday morning to get the appointment book so she could reschedule the week’s appointments because of the storm. She stopped at Safeway at 403 Redland Blvd. in Rockville on the way home to grab bagels and other food to take home.
“There’s little I can do,” Powell said as rain from the storm fell outside.
Ginger Shaw, 36, of Rockville, decided to stock up on a few other last minute items Monday morning at the supermarket. “I might be the only one to come to the store to buy parsnip,” said Shaw, who served as a U.S. Army major in Afghanistan, adding she needed the parsnip for a chicken dish she planned to cook. She also bought more diapers because the website she buys them from for her children is in New Jersey and may not be able to deliver in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
One thing she didn’t buy was D-cell batteries, and propane gas, because the store had sold out.
“We’ve looked for D-cell batteries for days,” Shaw said. “Every place has been out.”
Trina Heiser, a technician with the National Weather Service said conditions in Frederick will continue to deteriorate Monday.
“Hour by hour today it’s going to get worse,” she said.
The storm is expected to dump up to eight inches of rain on Frederick by Tuesday morning. A flood watch has been issued through Tuesday evening, and a high wind warning through 8 p.m. Tuesday, with gusts of wind up to 70 mph expected overnight Monday, and 65 mph through Tuesday, Heiser said.
“The greatest threat is tonight around midnight,” she said. “The gusts of about 65 [mph] will continue into Tuesday.
Frederick County began seeing heavier rain around 11 a.m. Monday, said Seamus Mooney, director of emergency operations for the county.
He said he'd been told that the heaviest wind and rain was expected between noon on Monday and 2 a.m. Tuesday.
The county hadn't officially designated any shelter locations by Monday morning, but crews had moved equipment into place in several locations to be available if needed, Mooney said.
He reminded residents to make sure generators are outside their homes if they lose power to avoid possible carbon monoxide poisoning, and to only use candles to provide light if absolutely necessary, to decrease the chance of a fire.
The county will be updating a list of roads that are closed at www.frederickcountymd.gov/roadsclosed.
All Prince George’s, Montgomery and Frederick county government agencies, as well as state and federal offices, are closed except for agencies with emergency personnel.
State offices will remain closed Tuesday as well.
All three counties’ public schools are also closed Monday and Tuesday, with Prince George’s operating under a Code Yellow Monday, which only requires emergency personnel to report to work, and a Code Red on Tuesday, meaning no one reports.
For transportation, Metro has closed all service today, including Metrorail and metrobus. MARC trains, TheBus and Ride-On have also suspended service for Monday, and officials are urging residents to stay indoors and avoid using roadways.
“Today is one of those days to follow the advice--don’t travel unless you absolutely have to,” State Highway Administrator Melinda B. Peters said in a statement Monday morning.
State agencies are also on the verge of shutting down several major bridges, O’Malley said, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Tydings Bridge, a section of I-95 that crosses the Susquehanna River.
Ocean City has been evacuated, O’Malley said, and has seen damage to its fishing pier, half of which has been washed out to sea.
Sunday afternoon also saw Monday’s early voting cancelled throughout the state, and it was announced Monday that early voting would be cancelled Tuesday as well. Early voting will be extended through Friday.
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman Jim Neustadt said that the water and sewer utility, which provides water and sewer service to 1.8 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, began preparing for the storm Thursday.
Permanent backup generators are either installed at or can be moved to the WSSC's six treatment plants and 17 water pumping stations and most of the 57 wastewater pumping stations have generators, Neustadt said.
Seven moveable generators have been placed at strategic locations throughout the water and sewer system so they can be mobilized quickly, Neustadt said.
Two more generators have been ordered and are available if the utility needs them, he said.
"We're really in a holding pattern at this point," Neustadt said Monday morning.
Reservoirs are about half full after a dry summer and "will be able to handle [additional] water without much problem," Neustadt said.
Knowing that the utility may not be able to count on deliveries, workers topped up treatment chemicals, gassed up the vehicle fleet and prepared for essential workers to stay overnight ahead of the storm, Neustadt said.
Customers who are concerned about the possibility that their water supply could be limited because of a loss of power at the utility can fill containers with tap water and fill bath tubs with water to use for flushing toilets, he said.
Staff writers Daniel J. Gross, Holly Nunn, Tripp Laino, Sylvia Carignan, Margie Hyslop, Ryan Marshall, Timothy Sandoval, C. Benjamin Ford, Alan J. McCombs, Jamie Anfenson-Comeau and Erich Wagner contributed to this report.