As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, officials are encouraging Charles County residents to prepare for the heavy rains, strong winds and flooding that are expected as far north as the Pennsylvania line.
For now, the Charles County Fair, scheduled to run from Thursday through Sunday, is set to continue as planned.
“We’re working on contingency plans now along with the [Charles County] Sheriff’s Office and the school board,” fair board member Hoover Thompson told the Maryland Independent. “We are preparing for winds and rain by making sure loose items are secure and things like that, but the main thing is that we are on.”
Thompson said that the fair board would send out notifications if those plans will need to change.
Maryland Airport owner Tammy Potter told the Maryland Independent that Saturday’s Wings, Wheels and Food event has been canceled and would be rescheduled for later in the fall.
According to the National Weather Service, the hurricane is expected to make landfall after midnight Friday along the North Carolina shore. However, Charles County can expect to begin experiencing winds late Thursday evening that could potentially reach tropical storm force levels.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday declared a state of emergency in advance of the storm.
“There is an elevated potential for historic and catastrophic rainfall, life-threatening flooding, and high winds,” Hogan said in a statement released by the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. “I urge Marylanders to stay tuned to your local news stations for the latest updates, listen to state and local authorities, use common sense, and most importantly, plan and be prepared ahead of this storm. Do not wait until Wednesday.”
Tips for riding out the storm
Michelle Lilly, chief of emergency management for the Charles County Government, said that county agencies are gearing up for their responses to Florence’s wind and rain.
“We are not in what’s called the error cone, which would cause us to kick off a lot of our more concentrated operations,” Lilly said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have some of the impact.”
Lilly said the biggest impact is expected to come from heavy rains.
“With our high ground saturation right now, it is going to be real easy for us to have water over the roads,” Lilly said.
Although tidal flooding is a concern along the river shorelines and creeks, Lilly said that the National Weather Service will not be issuing tidal-flood projections until one or two days before it could affect the area, in order to ensure that the information is as up to date as possible.
Even though it appears that Florence will not come threateningly close to Charles County, residents should still prepare for the effects of wind and rain.
“We tell everybody that you need to make sure that you have a kit that includes basic emergency supplies that you and your family would need to survive for at least 72 hours without power or ready access to emergency services,” Lilly said
These emergency supplies include one gallon of water per person per day, nonperishable food supplies, prescription medicines, food and supplies for pets and batteries or generators to power computers and mobile devices. Car chargers are also valuable tools for recharging electronics.
A full list of supplies is available on the Charles County Government’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/charlescounty/.
“We also tell people to be sure they know where they can get information,” Lilly said. The National Weather Service, first-responder agencies and the county government will all be sending out regular updates via social media throughout the hurricane and its aftermath.
Residents should also consider signing up for the county’s Citizen Notification Service at www.charlescountymd.gov/cns.
Lilly said that the county recently worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to update the county’s storm surge areas and MEMA. The information is available on the new Know Your Zone hurricane preparedness website, available at www.knowyourzonemd.com.
Charles County has two evacuation zones. Zone A includes coastal areas that are most likely to be impacted by flooding from tropical storms and Category 1 and 2 hurricanes. Zone B includes extended coastal areas that will be impacted by severe flooding from hurricanes that reach Category 3 or above, and areas that could be cut off from evacuation routes by the flooding of roadways.
On Tuesday, the Charles County Department of Emergency Services began providing sandbags to county residents for use in protecting property. Sandbags and sand will be available through Thursday and can be picked up between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the first parking lot at Laurel Springs Park on Radio Station Road in La Plata.
Bags are limited to 10 per person. Residents are encouraged to bring shovels to fill sandbags and proof of county residency.
As of noon Tuesday, emergency services staff had distributed 5,000 sandbags to residents.
Emergency services staff at Laurel Springs Park told the Maryland Independent that whereas a single load of sand will typically take two days to disappear, the first load was gone within an hour.
As of Tuesday, four loads of sand have been ordered.
Power outage preparations
Heavy ground saturation from recent rains has increased the chance that high winds will cause power outages from falling trees.
SMECO customers can report power outages and downed power lines by calling 1-877-74-SMECO (76326), online at www.smeco.coop, or via SMECO’s text messaging service, which is available through a mobile app.
SMECO spokesperson Tom Dennison reminded customers that have generators to place them outside when operating to prevent the buildup of deadly carbon monoxide and to make sure they are safely connected.
“A generator that is not connected safely can cause serious injury or death,” Dennison said in a press release.
SMECO does not recommend the use of candles or lanterns for illumination due to fire risk.
Most importantly, never attempt to touch downed power lines or remove trees that have fallen on them, Dennison said.
“Let qualified SMECO crews handle the clearing and repair work,” he said.
Protect your wells
Linda Warren of the Charles County Department of Health offered several tips to help well owners protect the safety of their well water.
Because submerged well-heads can lead to contamination from salt water and surface water, Warren said that well owners should clean their wells by running the contaminated water off for at least four hours. Then, pour a gallon of bleach into the well and pump it until the odor of bleach can be detected from the well and from every tap in the house.
Let the water stand for at least 24 hours, and then pump off the well until the bleach odor disappears.
Well owners can contact the Charles County Health Department at 301-609-6751 to get advice on how to test their well water.
“September is emergency preparedness month, if you didn’t know that,” Lilly said. “So I guess you could say that the timing is perfect for us in terms of preparing for a hurricane.”