Cape Gazette
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Markell orders coastal evacuation

Mandatory evacuation could come Friday
By Ryan Mavity and Melissa Steele | Aug 26, 2011
Photo by: NOAA The current track of Hurricane Irene. Gov. Jack Markell has issued a state of emergency in coastal Delaware effective at 6 p.m. A mandatory evacuation may be issued on Friday, Aug. 26.

 

Gov. Jack Markell has issued an evacuation of Delaware’s coastal areas in anticipation of Hurricane Irene.

Markell said the current forecasts show more than a foot of rain will hit coastal Sussex County, with inland Sussex and Kent County getting 9-to-10 inches. Winds in the area of Fenwick Island and Bethany Beach may reach 85 mph with gusts over 100 mph. In the area of Rehoboth Beach and Lewes, sustained winds could be as high as 50 mph with 60 mph gusts.

In response, Markell declared a state of emergency effective at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, with an order of evacuation from coastal areas throughout the state. He urged visitors and residents to start moving as soon as possible and make plans to stay in hotels or with family and friends.

"We urge people who can to start moving as soon as possible," Markell said.

Markell may issue a mandatory evacuation of residents and closure of state governments on Friday. All Delaware State Police officers are on call.

"Staying on the Penninsula does not look like a great idea," he said. "People should not be entering the area tonight or tomorrow."

Markell said the storm will cause major flooding in the coastal areas, making roads impassable. He said once wind speeds hit 40 mph, responders will not be able to reach stranded people.

Meteorologists are predicting the storm will bring heavy rains, strong winds, flooding and beach erosion.

Meteorologist Bob Wanton of the National Weather Service's Mount Holly, N.J. office said the storm will probably be a Category 1 hurricane by the time it arrives here, with winds of 70 to 90 mph.

Paul Walker, senior meteorologist with Accuweather, said Irene could be even worse, between a Category 1 and 2 storm. Walker said the winds from the storm could get as high as 105 mph.

Walker said the eye of the storm could be right over the Delaware beaches, but it could also track farther west depending on the meteorological model used.

Serious damage possible
Both meteorologists say the storm could be devastating, with 6 to 10 inches of rain and a 2-to-4-foot storm surge, exacerbated by tides already high as the moon reaches its closest approach to Earth Aug. 30. Markell said the storm surge could be as high as 4-to-7 feet.

Because of the potential damage it could inflict on the Cape Region, Wanton said, "It's a really nasty storm."

About 5 p.m. Thursday, Irene was hovering over Central Florida as she moves up the coast. The storm is expected to hit the Outer Banks in North Carolina late Saturday, then weaken as it moves toward coastal Maryland and Delaware.

Wanton said Irene is expected to hit the Cape Region around midnight on Saturday and continue into Sunday morning. By Sunday morning, Walker said, the storm should pass and track northeast toward New England.

Protecting IR bridge

Tina Shockley, spokeswoman for Delaware Department of Transportation, said the department is taking actions to secure the Indian River inlet bridge, currently under construction.

Shockley said hurricane tie-downs, ground anchors attached to the piles, have been attached. The cranes have been repositioned, and items that can float have been secured. Equipment has been relocated to higher ground, and debris and materials on the bridge decks have been secured.

Rehoboth Beach City Manager Greg Ferrese said the city began its preparations for the storm Tuesday by cleaning the storm drains and catch basins. On Wednesday, the city got all its public works equipment gassed up and ready to go.

Thursday, Ferrese said, the Rehoboth Beach Patrol cleaned and removed its shed from the beach. On Friday, the city will take lifeguard stands, trash cans and beach wheels off the beach. Trash cans will also be removed from the Boardwalk.

Ferrese said he was not sure whether the benches would be removed from the Boardwalk. That decision will be made early Friday morning, he said. Everything should be off the beach and Boardwalk by Saturday morning, Ferrese said.

"It's something we have never experienced," Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper said of the evacuation.

Cooper said any tourists expecting to come to the Rehoboth area for the weekend should stay home. He said residents should get trash cans off the street.

Ford recommends mandatory evacuation

Lewes Mayor Jim Ford said Sussex County officials recommended to Markell that mandatory evacuation be required for all areas within three-quarters of a mile of a water way - like the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay and Inland Bays.  He said Delmarva Power is anticipating that power could be out for three days which means all Lewes would be down as well.

"That would knock out our sewer plant as well," said Ford.

Ford said the decree would affect all of Lewes Beach. He said Beebe Medical Center officials told him they would not be evacuating patients.

"They don't really have anywhere to go, and evacuating would be a huge undertaking so they're going to hunker down and take all kinds of precautionary measures," Ford said.  "I don't think they will go around and do any kind of enforcement but what it does mean is that if you're in a mandatory evacuation area, don't count on getting any help from anyone in any circumstance."

The Delaware Emergency Management Agency is also asking visitors to Delaware and the beach area to go home, and those planning a trip are being asked to stay home as Irene moves up the coast.

"Those visitors vacationing in the beach area now should leave and go home," said Rosanne Pack, spokeswoman for the Delaware Emergency Management Agency. "Bridges close when winds reach 40 mph, and we want people to go while it's safe. We're asking people who plan to come to the beach or even Delaware, please postpone that trip, and do not come."

For helpful tips on what to do in preparation for a hurricane, including evacuation maps and preparedness brochures, go to www.sussexcountyde.gov/services/storm. For travel information on Maryland's Bay Bridge, click here.

Dennis Forney and Kara Nuzback contributed to this report

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