- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2012

Officials in the D.C. area girded for heavy rains and dangerous winds on Sunday into next week, as Hurricane Sandy creeps up the eastern seaboard.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency Friday morning to free up resources and set up lines of coordination. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell followed suit ahead of the “very unusual weather event” late in the hurricane season. And in the District, Mayor Vincent C. Gray joined his counterparts with an emergency decree while residents in flood-prone areas such as Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park remain on “pins and needles” ahead of the storm’s uncertain landfall.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, said Friday he is asking Mr. Gray’s administration for firm details on sandbag distribution, shelters for displaced residents and other efforts ahead of the storm’s landfall. Flooding and sewage back-up were constant problems for his constituents along the Rhode Island Avenue corridor during the summer, when heavy rains pummeled the region on multiple dates.

“Folks are anxious,” Mr. McDuffie said. “They want to know what preparations are in place to prepare for hurricane-like weather.”

Mr. McDuffie said he walked door-to-door in Bloomingdale to make sure residents were aware of the pending storm. He also asked the D.C. Department of Public Works to sweep up leaves from streets around the neighborhood, fearing they could end up in storm drains.

A wide of swath of Mr. Gray’s cabinet was summoned to an early afternoon conference call to form plans ahead of the hurricane’s landfall, which could linger in the region as it collides with wintry weather from the North.

“We have a hurricane plan and we’re going to execute it,” Mr. Gray’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said Friday.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stressed it is still unclear where the storm will make landfall, but they are “90 percent certain” that it will turn toward the coast because of an atmospheric “blocking mechanism” off of Greenland. At some point, the storm could hover over one-third of the eastern United States, according to Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Protection.

“It’s really going to be an expansive storm system,” he said.

Rainfall amounts could total 10 inches toward the coast and 4-8 inches in areas such as the District, with current projections hitting Delaware and northeastern Maryland the hardest. Winds could exceed 50 miles per hour along a vast swath from the coast to the Appalachian mountains, and parts of West Virginia could see substantial snowfall by Tuesday night, NOAA’s meteorologists said.

Mr. McDonnell said Virginians should expect a widespread impact “for a sustained period of time for three or four days,” regardless of the storm’s exact point of landfall. Based on previous storms, he said residents should be cautious of downed trees and power lines.

“That’s the biggest threat that we see at this time,” Mr. McDonnell said. No mandatory evacuations had been planned in the Old Dominion as of late Friday.

The governor also thanked the Romney campaign for postponing a rally in the Hampton Roads area. Virginia is considered a crucial swing state for the Republican nominee and President Obama.

“They expressed to me their concern — that they did not want to have anything that would distract from our first responders getting ready for this (weather) event,” Mr. McDonnell said.

In the District, the storm’s ultimate path will dictate adjustments in the city’s plan.

“The storm’s track still varies wildly, depending on which model you are looking at or which meteorologist you’re following,” Mr. Ribeiro said Friday. “We’re not quite sure whether it’s going to be a glancing blow or a full-on hit.”

Mr. McDuffie said he has received assurances from Pepco, the power utility that serves the District and thousands of customers in Maryland, that it will have additional crews on hand to handle any power outages in Bloomingdale. Pepco was widely criticized in late June, when a derecho storm knocked out power among its customers for up to week during the heart of a heat wave.

In a press briefing, Pepco said they have monitored the impending storm since the start of the week and are treating it as an “all-hands event.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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