As Hurricane Irene barrels up the Atlantic Coast, government officials, emergency service providers, and utility companies are bracing for the worst.
Ocean City has been evacuated, and officials in Worcester and Wicomico counties have followed their lead and asked around 5,000 residents to leave the region. States of emergency have been declared in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.
Delaware has also ordering a mandatory evacuation of coastal areas as Hurricane Irene approaches. Gov. Jack Markell says the evacuation must be completed by 9 a.m. Saturday, according to AP. The storm also may require bridges over the C+D Canal to close after the evacuation.
Organizers have cancelled the dedication of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial this weekend.
City prepares for flooding
A tropical storm warning is in effect for the entire D.C. metro area, and the District is preparing for flooding, as the area is under a Flash Flood Watch.
The Department of Public Works is providing residents with sandbags free of charge ahead of the storm. Present a D.C. driver's license or ID card at DPW's New Jersey Avenue and K Street location in Southeast to pick them up.
The sandbags weigh 40 to 50 lbs, and residents are allowed as many as five per household. Distribution runs through midnight tonight, and continues Saturday from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Transportation could be affected
Amtrak has cancelled all train service south of Washington D.C. starting today.
Metro is getting ready for rough weather this weekend as Hurricane Irene moves up the eastern seaboard. To prepare, crews have placed more than 2,000 sandbags around the escalators at Metrorail stations that have a history of flooding. That list includes Cleveland Park, King Street, and Largo Town Center, among others.
In the event of downed trees causing problems, Metro supervisors are being equipped with chain saws for their vehicles and the transit agency plans to have extra support staff on duty throughout the weekend to respond to any situations that may arise.
Still, Metro says the storm will likely cause at least some delays and asks riders to check ahead and allow for extra travel time as necessary.
Power outages expected to be widespread
Electric utility Pepco is expecting widespread power outages due to high winds and heavy rains. The company has already began auto-calling its most vulnerable customers to warn them of possible outages this weekend.
The utility company predicts power outages to hit the D.C. metro area as early as Saturday, even though the storm is expected be at its worst on Sunday.
"Irene is a large and powerful storm and we need our customers to know in advance that it could result in extended power outages," said Pepco Region President Thomas Graham, in a statement.
If electricity is lost in a home Pepco says it could take up to 24 hours after the storm, maybe longer, to assess the damage and restore power. The company says it is preparing to bring on extra crews and and have employees work extended hours to restore power after outages this weekend.
Service calls are going out today to customers on Pepco's critical needs list. That includes residents who must have power to operate medical equipment.
The utility is asking the customer group to plan ahead and identify an emergency power location, such as a local hospital, to wait out the storm. Other persons with medical needs are advised to order extra prescription medication.
Dominion Virginia Power is also gearing up to address outages in Virginia, but the company also much prepare for a two-pronged response to the outages due to its substantial customer base in North Carolina.
"This storm has serious potential to cause widespread damage," Rodney Blevins, vice president of distribution operations for Dominion Virginia Power and Dominion North Carolina Power. "We are geared up to handle any situation as quickly and safely as possible.
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