REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) — Mid-Atlantic electric utilities, facing the threat of a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy, reached across North America on Friday to secure extra help in restoring power that they said could be out for more than a week because of prolonged high winds and torrential rain.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency, and the Assateague Island National Seashore said it will close Saturday to campers and Sunday to all visitors.
O’Malley said Sandy also could affect Maryland’s early general election voting, scheduled from Saturday through Nov. 1.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell did not issue an evacuation order Friday, but officials were monitoring the storm closely.
“Delaware is smack dab in the crosshairs based on the current path projections,” said Chip Guy, a spokesman for Sussex County, Del., home to the state’s ocean beaches.
Workers on Washington’s Metro subway system were inspecting drains and placing sandbags in flood-prone areas. Emergency management officials across the region urged residents to prepare for days without power, water and natural gas.
Christopher Geldart, director of the District of Columbia’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency, said the aftermath could be similar to the widespread power outages of more than a week that followed a storm in the area in late June.
“We want to just make sure that folks understand that this could be a very significant power outage event,” Geldart said.
The utility companies serving Baltimore and Washington area said the storm could knock out power to hundreds of thousands and leave them in the dark for days because high winds could hamper repair work.
“This storm truly has the potential, if it stays on its current path, to exceed the damage that we saw with Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and Irene in 2011,” said Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Rob Gould. Each of those storms affected 790,000 BGE customers, he said.
Forecasters expect the hurricane to turn inland around Delaware, but said it could still hit as far north as New York.
The storm moving up the Atlantic coast could pour a foot of rain on the coastal Delmarva Peninsula from Sunday through Wednesday, and 6 to 10 inches elsewhere, said Weather Underground meteorologist Shaun Tanner. He said winds gusting up to 60 mph could peak at hurricane strength, 74 mph, when the storm comes ashore Tuesday morning.
Sandy’s remnants could spawn tornadoes and knock down trees laden with soggy leaves, disrupting power across the region, Tanner said.
“It’s prolonged. It won’t be a one-day hit and gone,” he said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted extreme storm surges.
A cold front approaching from the west will bring more rain, along with snow in the far western Maryland mountains, Tanner said.
In Ocean City, public works director Hal Adkins aimed to stockpile 1,000 sandbags before the heavy rain arrives.
The city of Baltimore was offering sandbags to residents in the flood-prone Fells Point area. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged residents to prepare for severe weather and a storm surge similar to that from Isabel, which caused severe flooding in the upper Chesapeake Bay in 2003.
Workers at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore were fueling generators and stockpiling dry ice to ensure that the animals are fed if power goes out. Spokeswoman Jane Ballentine, preparing for a weekend trick-or-treating event, said that while most of the animals have indoor shelters, the threat of falling tees might require the staff to capture dozens of birds in an outdoor aviary and bring them indoors.
The so-called “Frankenstorm” was starting to mess with people’s Halloween plans. The city of Newark, Del., canceled a Sunday Halloween parade. But officials in Rehoboth Beach proceeded Friday with the Sea Witch Halloween and Fiddlers Festival, scheduled through Sunday. The event attracts more than 150,000 visitors annually.
Sunny skies and unseasonably warm weather ahead of the storm drew people to the sands and boardwalk of Rehoboth Beach Friday, even as officials warned that they may have to evacuate.
“There’s really nothing you can do about it. I just take it as it comes,” said local resident Pete Patson, 90, strolling the boardwalk. Patson said he plans to stay with a daughter who lives about five miles inland if things get bad.
But visitor Debbie Post said she and her friends would cut their visit short.
“We’ve still got to get back and batten down our hatches in Jersey,” she said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)