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Ocean City Feels Strength Of Irene, Potentially ‘Biggest Storm City Has Ever Seen’

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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OCEAN CITY, Md. (WJZ)– Conditions are rapidly deteriorating in Ocean City.

Winds have increased significantly in Ocean City and it’s raining heavily. Waves are quite strong and washing over the dunes. Route 90 was shut down Saturday morning.

Gov. Martin O’Malley says Hurricane Irene is arriving in the beach resort town of Ocean City sooner than officials had expected.

O’Malley said at a news conference Saturday at the Maryland Emergency Management agency in Reisterstown that authorities anticipate that the eye of the storm will pass “pretty well directly over Ocean City” about midnight Saturday, a couple hours earlier than had been predicted.

He says the eye of the storm is about 30 miles wide and should come within 15 to 20 miles of Ocean City. Officials are anticipating a 3- to 5-foot storm surge.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Maryland on Saturday afternoon.

Mike Hellgren reports the rain is chilly and stinging and has picked up.  He was out in the storm and had to brace himself to report the story. 

Hellgren reports the wastewater system has been turned off and power went off shortly after 8 p.m. in parts of Ocean City.  Generators are available in the hotels where the news team is staying.  

Damage has been reported to some buildings.

Ocean City hasn’t had to evacuate since 1985 (for Hurricane Gloria). This is a historic storm.

“The further you come up Ocean Highway, the worse it gets. The visibility’s not so good,” said WJZ photographer Joel Eagle. “It’s definitely getting worse.”

Officials say it could be the biggest storm Ocean City has ever seen. They say only 300 people stayed behind. For the people who did stay, they are advised not to try and leave the house for any reason. 

Mike Hellgren gives an update on conditions in Ocean City:

Mass exodus.  Most people have evacuated in the face of the worst hurricane to hit the continental U.S. since 2005.

Ocean City’s mayor has told people who stay in town that emergency personnel won’t be available to help them should something happen. Officials asked for next of kin information from those who did stay.

Business owners are prepared for flooding and a three to six-foot storm surge. They placed sandbags and boarded up windows. Many also posted signs.

Ocean City has been very proactive in getting the message out to people about what’s going to happen and evacuating tourists, students and residents.

Jessica Kartalija has more on the latest on the storm:

Officials are hoping they can clean up all damage before next weekend, the big Labor Day weekend.

FEMA is asking people to stay off cell phones, if possible, and send text messages or emails to check on family members in order to keep the lines clear. They’re concerned about cell towers.

“The reality is we’re prepared for Irene whether it’s a category 1 or category 2 and it does not matter at this time,” said Joe Theobald, Emergency Services Director.

“It is a ghost town and that’s a good thing,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “We are prepared for what is going to be a very unpleasant experience.”

Meehan is at the Ocean City emergency operations center.

“Everything has been closed,” Meehan said. “We’re going to wait and watch and see what happens as Hurricane Irene works through.”

Ocean City could take a financial hit.

“We’ve had a great summer and you take away a weekend in August and it’s going to have an impact,” Meehan said. “We’re going to be open again as soon as possible.”

Mayor Rick Meehan discusses the storm:

“That’s sustained, hurricane-force winds and a significant amount of rainfall,” said Meehan.  “That’s going to cause us a lot of problems.”

For anyone watching who doesn’t have a safe place to go, Stephen Decatur High School has been turned into a makeshift shelter.

Ocean City residents aren’t the only ones evacuating. Officials want people living west of the 50/301 split out, as well. It’s going to be tough once conditions deteriorate to get people out if there are problems.

Mike Hellgren talked to some of the evacuees.

In just a few hours, Ocean City will get hit with over 80-mile-an-hour plus winds, a storm surge and overall very dangerous conditions. Fortunately, Irene weakened slightly Saturday morning. As of Friday, the winds would have been over 100 miles an hour.

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 80 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.”

Officials say any individual who decides to 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.

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