Reporting Jessica Kartalija
OCEAN CITY, Md. (WJZ)– At a time of the year when Ocean City should be simply packed, it’s starting to look more like a ghost town. Gov. Martin O’Malley and its mayor issued mandatory evacuations off the island in wake of a powerful storm approaching the region.
Jessica Kartalija explains that leaders are bracing for heavy damage.
We have been monitoring the situation in Ocean City. At first, it seemed relatively calm. Now waves are crashing into the rocks and all along the beach as the tide moves in. Evacuations are underway; the Route 90 bridge has been closed, and all public transportation is shut down.
Mass exodus. Route 50 westbound from Ocean City is bumper to bumper. While traffic headed toward the coast is met with this warning: “forced winds arriving around 4 a.m. on Sunday and lasting for a period of eight hours.”
“The reality is we’re prepared for Irene, whether or not she’s a category 1, category 2 does not matter at this point in time,” said Joe Theobald, director of emergency services.
Irene is the strongest storm to threaten the United States since 2005. Ocean City officials are preparing for the worst.
“And that’s sustained force hurricane winds, high surges 6 to 8 feet. And a significant amount of rainfall, anywhere from 6 to 15 inches, depending upon the duration of the storm and how long it sits here. And that’s going to cause us a lot of problems,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.
Police have blocked all access into the popular tourist destination. Mayor Meehan has ordered the evacuation of all residents and visitors by 5 p.m. Friday.
“We are asking people to leave,” he said. “If they don’t want to leave, we’ll explain to them what the circumstances are going to be. We get their name and address and actually information of the closest relative.”
Now, they say all we can do is wait.
“It’s a big hurricane. Category 2, you know? A hundred miles per hour winds, 48 hours of rain. Should be interesting,” said an Ocean City resident.
Worchester County shelters are now open . These shelters include Stephen Decatur High School, Stephen Decatur Middle School , Snow Hill High School and Pocomoke High School.
Tourists and residents alike are making their way out of Ocean City after Mayor Meehan initiated phase three of the city’s emergency plan.
Mike Hellgren talked to some of the evacuees.
In just a short time, Ocean City will get hit with 100 mph plus winds, a storm surge, and overall very dangerous conditions. We talked to a lot of people about why they’re getting out now.
The warnings are dire, and people in Ocean City are taking them seriously.
“We’re very concerned,” said one resident. “That’s why we want to get home. We have family, animals, our daughter’s there. So, we want to get home to our family and get out of here before it gets crazy.”
Officials are knocking on doors, asking residents about their game plan.
“They ask if you’re leaving, and they ask if you’re going to stay. And they take your name and the next of kin,” said an OC resident. “It just makes you scared. I’m glad I’m out.”
Irene, the massive hurricane the size of Texas, is expected to come through town. It’s likely to be one of the worst storms in a generation.
“This is quite a storm, no doubt about that. The ocean is just unbelievable,” said one resident.
Sandbags went down and boards went up. If it wasn’t plywood, it was tape—anything that could blunt the force of winds that are expected to be more than 100 mph.
This is a community that has seen its share of hurricanes, but a mandatory evacuation is rare. Most understand staying could be more costly.
“I think it’s going to have a huge impact,” said an Ocean City resident. “We’re really worried. There’s a lot of flooding just during rain storms where we live on St. Louis Avenue. And we’re all very nervous. And we just hope our property will still be here after the storm.”
The sky and the ocean are looking a little more ominous. And the big message is, get out while you can.
All persons other than identified emergency personnel are ordered to evacuate Ocean City by 5 p.m. Friday or at least by noon Saturday. Officials say any individual who decidesto stay on the barrier island do so at his/her own risk as they will not have any emergency services available should something dire happen.