LEWES, Del. — Residents across the mid-Atlantic spent Sunday preparing for a potentially miserable week as slow-moving Hurricane Sandy bore down on the coast, threatening floods, widespread power outages and property damage.
The storm threatened to bring as much as a foot of rain, winds of up to 80 mph and a wall of water 4 to 11 feet high. As coastal residents evacuated or braced for the storm, the federal government announced that offices in the Washington area will be closed Monday.
In Delaware, where Gov. Jack Markell ordered the evacuation of 50,000 coastal residents, people were lining up outside an American Red Cross shelter in the waterfront community of Lewes when it opened at noon Sunday.
Among the first in line were Hugh Phillips, 69, and his wife, Martha, 61, both of whom walk with canes. The couple lives in the Long Neck area of Sussex County, an area prone to flooding.
“We were told to get the heck out,” Hugh Phillips said. “I was going to stay, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Others, meanwhile, decided to defy the order and stay put.
“I think it’s going to be an annoying rain storm,” said Jeff Zeller, a salesman from Pennsylvania who planned to ride out the storm in his summer home in Lewes, near Rehoboth Beach. He stocked up with two cases of Heineken beer and bottled water.
Sandy was headed north from the Caribbean, where it left more than five dozen people dead. It was expected to hook west toward the mid-Atlantic coast and come ashore late Monday or early Tuesday, most likely in New Jersey, colliding with a wintry storm from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic.
Forecasters warned that the resulting megastorm could wreak havoc across 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
In more populous northern Delaware, about 3,000 residents of flood-prone south Wilmington were also told to evacuate.
Bobbie Foote, a 58-year-old fitness coach, said she would ride out the storm at her daughter’s home in nearby Newark. It will be the first time she has fled a storm threatening the apartment building that has been her home for at least 40 years in the working-class neighborhood near the Delaware River, south of Philadelphia.
“My daughter insists that I leave this time,” said Foote, who stayed last year when flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Irene blocked streets at either end of the neighborhood. “She said I should never put myself in that predicament where I cannot get in or out of where I live.”
President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Maryland, and District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray was asking the White House to declare one for the nation’s capital, allowing federal agencies to help the local government respond to the storm.
The Washington area was mostly shutting down ahead of the storm. Federal and local offices will be closed Monday, as will the Metro subway and bus system, officials said. Schools were closed throughout the region.
“This storm is unique, large, dangerous and unlike anything the region has experienced before,” Gray said.
Officials warned that sustained winds of 30 mph or greater were expected in the capital region for a 24-hour period beginning at around 8 a.m. Monday.
Early voting was canceled for Monday in Maryland, as was a U.S. Senate debate scheduled for Tuesday on the Eastern Shore. Numerous flights into the region’s airports were canceled, and Amtrak canceled service along the Eastern Seaboard for Monday. Commuter rail service in Maryland and Virginia was also canceled.
Utilities were preparing for hundreds of thousands of power outages and bringing in thousands of line workers from out of state. Pepco regional president Thomas Graham warned that because of sustained winds, the restoration effort might not begin in earnest until Wednesday.
On Sunday, Markell expanded Delaware’s limited state of emergency, ordering that businesses in mandatory evacuation zones be closed by 6 p.m.
State officials waived the tolls on northbound Route 1 and were directing vehicles into EZ-Pass lanes to speed the evacuation of people leaving coastal areas.
However, residents of the southernmost coastal communities, including Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, were unable to take state Route 1 — the only major highway out of town — because ocean water breached sand dunes and flooded the road north of the Indian River Inlet Bridge early Sunday. Residents of those communities south of the bridge were forced to turn inland, but Markell said Sunday afternoon that the evacuation appeared to be going smoothly.
The dune breach left officials concerned about the amount of flooding that the state of 907,000 residents could expect when the worst of the storm arrives Monday.
“It got people’s attention,” said state House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, a Democrat who represents the Rehoboth Beach area.
In Maryland, residents were stocking up for days or more at home. Julie Seymour, 54, was filling up her car in Grasonville, Md., around noon on Sunday as a steady rain fell.
Seymour said her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, ages 10 and 3, had come to stay with her and her husband because of the storm. They also have two dogs and a rabbit to take care of. She said they’d already gotten gas for the generator, and she was on her way to pick up prescriptions and some extra water, bread, milk and toilet paper.
Seymour also was looking ahead to a potentially soggy Halloween. She said she had bought $60 worth of candy that the family may now have to eat themselves.
“Gosh, I hope it clears up and the kids can go trick-or-treating Wednesday,” she said.
In Berlin, Md., more than 300 people voted at an early-voting location at an assisted living facility despite a steady rain. More than 1,000 people had voted on Saturday, waiting an hour and 40 minutes during the busiest time, said Kay Hickman, president of the Worcester County Board of Elections. The polling place had so many voters that poll workers ran out of “I Voted” stickers.
In south Wilmington, not everyone was heeding the evacuation order. Michael Dorsey, 30, who lives with his girlfriend and four children, said the family had stocked up on tuna, noodles and other nonperishable foods and checked their battery supply. He said they wouldn’t leave unless officials say, “Yo! It’s going to be bad. It’s going to be the end of the world!”
Dorsey said most of his neighbors would probably not be leaving.
“A lot of people have got nowhere to go,” he said.
In Delaware City, where about 700 residents were ordered to evacuate, mobile home park resident Kevin Bazzani put his lawn furniture in the shed, tied down the bikes and prepared to defend his Delaware River home against looters while his daughter and two grandchildren headed to her sister’s house in nearby Elsmere.
“I don’t want my stuff getting taken,” said Bazzani, manager of a Friendly’s restaurant. “I don’t have a lot here of any value but what I do have, I want to keep.”
Ocean City mayor orders evacuation of downtown residents
OCEAN CITY (AP) — The town of Ocean City ordered an evacuation of downtown residents Sunday as Hurricane Sandy headed for the Delmarva Peninsula.
Residents were to leave the area south of 17th Street by 8 p.m. Sunday.
In addition, a voluntary evacuation order has been issued for residents and occupants of known low-lying areas. And Mayor Rick Meehan has closed the beach to everyone until further notice.
The town says severe flooding is expected.