Floodwaters reach mid-Atlantic ahead of Sandy
OCEAN CITY, Md. (AP) - Floodwaters surged into seaboard communities in Maryland and Delaware as former Hurricane Sandy crashed ashore on the mid-Atlantic coast, and residents feared the worst was yet to come as the huge, violent storm headed inland.
Parts of Ocean City in Maryland and Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach in Delaware - three of the region's most popular coastal destinations - were under water by Monday afternoon. Officials were predicting that Sandy would cause damage equal to or greater than two of the worst tropical storms in the region's history: Gloria in 1985 and Agnes in 1972.
Authorities implored people to stay off the roads while imposing evacuation orders that affected thousands of residents in low-lying coastal communities, primarily in Delaware. Sandy made landfall Monday night near Atlantic City, N.J., no longer a hurricane but still a dangerous hybrid storm with 80 mph sustained winds.
In Washington, the federal and local governments were to remain closed Tuesday along with the courts, public schools and the Metro system that serves about 1.2 million weekday customers. Most flights in and out of the three airports serving the region were canceled Monday, and widespread cancellations were expected Tuesday. Tourist attractions such as the Smithsonian museums were off-limits, and shelters opened to help hundreds.
Multiple tractor-trailers, disabled by a blizzard in far western Maryland, were blocking the westbound lanes of Interstate 68 near the Allegany-Garrett county line Monday night, a Maryland State Police dispatcher said Monday.
"It's like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs up here," Bill Wiltson said.
He said about six inches of snow spawned by Superstorm Sandy had caused multiple wrecks, but no injuries, as tractor-trailers struggled to climb slippery Big Savage Mountain near Finzel.
"We've got a couple vehicles sideways in the roadway because they're all right in the middle of the pack," Wiltson said.
The Maryland State Highway Administration said Monday night it had no estimate of how long the westbound lanes of I-68 would remain blocked.
"We got them freed and then got them a little farther up the road, and then hit another place where we couldn't get them up the hill," agency spokesman David Buck said at 9:30 p.m., about an hour after the closure was announced.
He said wet, heavy snow began falling in the afternoon, accumulating to more than 5 inches by 8:30 p.m. The National Weather Service predicted 10 to 14 inches in the area Monday followed by several more inches Tuesday.
The blockage was about 90 miles west of Baltimore.
Also in western Maryland, authorities urged residents of Locust Grove in Allegany County to evacuate because of rising waters.
Delaware City Police Chief Dan Tjaden said Monday night that minor flooding from early in the day was subsiding and no further flooding was expected.
But with the passage of the center of the storm, officials at the Joint Information Center at Delaware's emergency management agency said conditions were pretty quiet early Tuesday.
"We've had no reports of deaths or injuries across the state and no significant damage," said JIC spokeswoman Jill Fredel.
Fredel said officials will have a better idea of the storm's impact later Tuesday morning, and that a decision on whether to lift driving restrictions would be made by 8:30 a.m., after authorities assess road and weather conditions.
From Washington to New York, Sandy caused havoc Monday. Utilities warned power outages could affect millions and last for a week as the vast tropical system converged with a wintry storm and cold Arctic air. As of 8:30 p.m. Monday, after a few hours of gale-force winds in the region, there were more than 300,000 power outages in Delaware, Maryland, northern Virginia and the District of Columbia, utilities reported.
No part of the region appeared safe from Sandy's impact. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said his state was "right in the crosshairs" of the storm and urged people to stay off the roads at least until Tuesday night. He said flooding was likely in communities along the Chesapeake Bay.
"The days ahead are going to be very difficult," O'Malley said. "There will be people who die and are killed in this storm."
Maryland's health secretary said the state's first fatality was a woman killed in a car accident in Germantown, but police said they had not determined conclusively that her death was storm-related.
The Bay Bridge, which links Maryland's Eastern Shore with the rest of the state, was closed Monday afternoon because of high winds.
In Washington, the weather service warned that the Potomac River would experience its worst flooding since 1996. Flooding was expected to begin Tuesday night and last through the end of the week, the weather service said.
Parts of coastal towns in southern Delaware already were under water by midday Monday. Wind-driven high tides swamped streets in Lewes east of the Lewes-Rehoboth canal, and police blocked off a bridge over the canal. The wind and water toppled light poles near the Lightship Overfalls, a National Historic Landmark.
Farther south in Dewey Beach, water from Rehoboth Bay inundated streets on the west side of Route 1, the major coastal highway, and crept onto the highway itself. Authorities blocked off Route 1 at southern the edge of town because of dune breaches farther south near the Indian River Inlet bridge, which also was closed.
"We know that we will get through this," Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said during a news conference in Rehoboth Beach, where huge, brown waves crashed onto the sand in front of the boardwalk. "We just need to stay together and stick together and work together."
The stormy Atlantic Ocean covered the beach in Ocean City, where a pier was battered and badly damaged. Tracy Lind, a front desk worker at a Holiday Inn & Suites, said the pier was part of the fabric of the resort town, frequented by fishermen and visited by tourists and locals seeking a close-up look at the ocean.
"It's kind of like an icon in Ocean City. It's the closest people can get to the ocean without getting in," Lind said. "I always thought that it would withstand anything."
Mayor Rick Meehan said there was significant flooding in a downtown area where officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation. About 200 people were staying in the evacuated area.
The high water and extent of the flooding surprised some. Ron Croker, the owner of Waterways Marina, was out in the rain Monday afternoon moving jet skis from a parking lot on Coastal Highway. Croker said he was surprised how high the water rose.
"It's never been this high," Croker said of the water. "Pretty amazing."
On Monday afternoon, the Ocean City boardwalk was deserted, and shops that normally sell hot dogs and lemonade, T-shirts and souvenirs were closed. An amusement park at the end of the boardwalk was locked. A Ferris wheel, stripped of its cars, slowly turned in the wind.
In Delaware, Markell ordered the evacuation of about 50,000 people in coastal communities. Thousands more were evacuated in parts of Wilmington, the state's largest city, and Delaware City, a working-class community that's home to a massive oil refinery.
At high tide around midday Monday, dark gray waves rolled and crashed along Delaware City's 10-foot seawall. The tide was near the city's 8.5-foot record. The next high tide, overnight, was forecast to surpass it.
The Sussex County Emergency Operations Center was operating on emergency power Monday night. Spokesman Joe Hopple said the main power supply had been up and down a few times, but that generator power was fine.
Occupancy at the American Red Cross shelter in New Castle, Del., reached 101 by 4 p.m. Monday, more than triple the total from 24 hours earlier. Some brought along dogs and cats.
In the Washington area, winds started picking up Monday afternoon, and some snowflakes mixed in with the raindrops falling downtown. Fire departments began responding to trees falling on homes, although no injuries were reported.
Although Arlington National Cemetery was closed to tourists, the Army's Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard, continued to stand guard over the Tomb of the Unknowns. Soldiers in combat uniforms were guarding the tomb from a small enclosure covered by a green awning about 20 feet away, said Maj. John Miller, a regiment spokesman.
The Metro transit system in Washington closed for the first time since Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and was to remain shut at least through Tuesday morning.
Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Reisterstown, Md., David Dishneau in Delaware City, Del., Matthew Barakat in McLean, Va., and Eric Tucker and Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.