Ocean City, Md. is evacuating for the first time in 26 years as the region braces for the potential wrath of Hurricane Irene.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan is usually calm cool and collected, attributes expected from the mayor of a beach town. But he was noticeably on edge as he read the proclamation declaring a state of emergency, and calling for the evacuation of residents and visitors by 5 p.m. Friday evening.
Meehan was a first year city councilman back in 1985 the last time the town was evacuated as Hurricane Gloria approached. The storm ravaged the Ocean City boardwalk. Meehan says town officials are calling Irene, "Gloria on steroids."
"We have a lot of storms that come up the coast bump off of Carolina or veer off to the east," says Meehan, "but this one is not doing that. These winds exceed tropical storm winds, it's a category 3 hurricane right now. This is a serious storm."
Police will go door to door in an attempt to get everyone off the island. Officials have also evacuated more than 4,000 foreign students working in Ocean City for the summer by busing them to Salisbury, Md., where they will be picked up by state officials and taken to the Baltimore convention center.
Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald says the evacuation plan, or Phase 3 as he calls it, went into full effect last night at midnight as police officers blocked all access into Ocean City. He hopes residents and tourists heed the warnings and get out of town as quickly as possible.
Because when Irene hits ocean city late Saturday afternoon, he says, all bets are off.
"Ocean City hasn't been impacted by such a storm in probably ever, other than 1933 when the inlet was formed," said Theobald, "so there's going to be a lot of complacency with our residents, but they need to heed our warning. With this one, you gotta run from the water."
And with forecasts of 10 inches of rain, wind gusts of 120 miles per hour and storm surges of almost 10 feet, Theobald says rather than just be a town by the water, Ocean City very well could be a town underwater by Sunday afternoon.