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Winds & Rains Pummel Ocean City; Downtown Pier Damaged

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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OCEAN CITY, Md. (WJZ/AP) – Sandy is now a post tropical cyclone, but Ocean City and rest of the Eastern Shore are facing high winds and being pounded by heavy rain.

Mike Hellgren reports.

There were more than 30 people that police had to rescue or who called for help in Ocean City, but no injuries were reported. Many people were prepared for this storm, but as the winds got so strong and the rain began, they decided to go to higher ground.

At its peak, Sandy brought strong gusts of wind and sustained heavy rain. Some streets saw more than four feet of water.

“It concerned me a great deal,” said Kathy O’Hara. “We’ve been through many here in town.”

“It’s the duration of the storm,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.

Even after the storm made landfall, there are still strong, steady winds although the winds are currently a little weaker. Even so, it’s still a dangerous storm and officials are urging people to stay inside.

“We were trying to ride it out,” said June Betz. “You can always replace property but you can’t replace lives.”

“There are time when we feel we’re being overwhelmed. Other times, it seems like science is telling us something different,” O’Hara said.

One of the things officials have been watching the storm surge that has seen three to four feet of water downtown and in low-lying areas.

The Route 90 bridge into Ocean City has reopened after being closed to all but emergency traffic as high winds and heavy rain intensify during the arrival of Hurricane Sandy.

The bridge closed at 5 p.m. Monday and reopened at 10 p.m.

Approximately 10 inches of rain is expected. That will result in severe flooding in low-lying areas, when combined with the storm and tidal surges.

For those residents and visitors who haven’t evacuated, the town’s emergency services officials are now advising them to shelter in place for the rest of the storm.

Sandy’s power has been unleashed. Fierce winds blasted Ocean City, growing stronger by the minute as the megastorm drew closer.

“Downtown, we do have significant flooding,” Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said. “In the downtown areas, probably the highest storm surge we’ve seen in a long time with Hurricane Gloria, probably about seven feet. And that has caused some problems.”

Police so far have been able to respond to every call but are closing more roads as water grows deeper.

The US 50 bridge has been closed. The wind and rain are strong and officials are telling residents not to drive in those conditions.

“We’re going to have some serious winds for the rest of the day and into the night,” Ocean City emergency management official Joe Theobald said. “We’re going to run into those 40 miles an hour sustained. Could we hit a hurricane strike gusts? We may. You run from the water and you hide from the wind.”

Emergency management officials say some older buildings downtown may have wate rin their first floors. They’re comparing the impact of this storm to Hurricane Gloria, which hit in September 1985 causing an equivalent of almost $2 billion in damage along the East Coast. And the worst from Sandy is yet to come.

“In case there is flooding and standing water, it’s dangerous to ride through it,” said Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. “Also in case of any power lines that may go down. We don’t want people driving through that.”

As of Monday, the dune line has been breached as waves washed over the fencing on the beach.  In addition, the inlet has flooded.

There is quite a bit of flooding on the bay side, and there are still several tide cycles to get through.

With Hurricane Sandy’s arrival, the Town of Ocean City implanted Phase II of the Emergency Evacuation Plan.  Winds and rains are picking up in Ocean City, and waves are battering the coastline.

Ferocious waves are lashing coastal Maryland, and Ocean City called for a mandatory evacuation of its vulnerable downtown. Residents were told to leave the area south of 17th Street by 8 p.m. Sunday.

In addition, a voluntary evacuation order has been issued for residents and occupants of known low-lying areas.

Worcester County opened shelters Sunday. The town of Ocean City will use its buses to transport people with special needs to shelters.

Meehan has declared a local State of Emergency, issuing an order to close the beach to all persons until further notices. In addition, the inlet lot will be closed and will not reopen for the duration of the storm, which is expected to last two to three days.

Meehan told WJZ Monday that they have gotten only a few emergency calls.

“We’ve had numbers of storms to come through here, but this one because of its size and its intensity, the winds are not as strong as other storms or not anticipated to be as strong, but the duration of the storm that’s a little longer, the high tide and the water surge,” said Meehan.

He likened the storm to Gloria, which damaged Ocean City heavily in 1985.  It caused almost $2 billion in damage.

He says some businesses have suffered first floor flooding, but there have been no power outages.

During the storm, the Town of Ocean City will be posting storm related information on various websites, social media outlets, through the GovDelivery system and the television access channel. Citizens are asked to tune into Ocean City’s Government Access Channel (4 & 15) for further detailed information or advisories. To subscribe to GovDelivery, visit the “City Wide Alerts” tab on the Town of Ocean City’s website at http://oceancitymd.gov.

“We did a door-to-door notification with the help of the state police,” Joe Theobald of the Ocean City Emergency Management said. “And they’ve been given notification that, you know, they’re staying on their own decision and there may be a time when public safety cannot respond to get to them.”

The hybrid hurricane and nor’easter is already being felt and preparations have been underway for days.

For days, people have boarded up. Now, they’re ready to hunker down.

Hellgren: “Are you worried?”
Ocean City Resident: “Kind of. Little bit. Just a little.”

Related Story: Hurricane Sandy Prompts Massive Closures & Strong Warnings From State Officials

A few electronic signs at hotels and businesses had messages for the storm including “Sandy Blows” and “Sandy be kind to OC.” “Stay Safe” said a message on a hardware store’s sign.

Shelters are open in Eastern Maryland. Sandy is double the size of Hurricane Irene, which caused little damage in Ocean City last year. Not only is this storm bigger, but it is expected to stay around longer– days of punishing wind and rain.

“This is something historic for many people,” Theobald said. “You know, we plan for the worst and we take whatever actions are necessary to make sure we protect the life and property of this town. The decisions we’ve made are prudent. We certainly know that we have to get people out of low-lying areas. And the issue today is the surge downtown as well as the flooding. And that’s our focus at this point.”

Mike & Jessica Kartalija discuss conditions in Ocean City:

The last hurricane to hit Ocean City was Irene in 2011. It moved quickly and did minimal damage. Sandy could stick around longer and do more damage.

Experts estimate this storm could cause $1 billion in damage.

Photo Gallery: Tracking Hurricane Sandy

Meanwhile, across the state, in mountainous western Maryland, a blizzard warning was issued for sections of Garrett County for Monday night into Tuesday morning.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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