Hurricane Irene: D.C., Maryland, Virginia impacts

(AP, ABC7) - D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray declared a state of emergency for the nation's capital ahead of Hurricane Irene, joining the governors of Virginia and Maryland who already issued such an order.

Gray said the National Guard is on standby and he has spoken with both President Obama and FEMA.

Pepco has warned residents that power outages for several days are likely, and local counties have declared emergencies and have run out of sandbags to pass out to residents.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell warns that Hurricane Irene is expected to push a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet when it slams Virginia's coast. It comes at the highest tides of the month, likely pushing water throughout the Chesapeake Bay 8 to 9 feet over its mean level.

The governor says more than a million Virginians could lie in the path of hurricane-force winds from Irene on its current track, and many more could feel tropical storm winds and heavy rains.

Heavy rain will reach the D.C. metro region late Saturday along with possible flooding and sustained winds of 30-40 mph with gusts in excess of 45-50 mph, ABC7's meteorologist predicts. Conditions will improve Sunday afternoon as Irene departs, but winds will remain gusty well into the afternoon Sunday.

Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen declared a state of emergency Friday evening and is urging businesses and residents in low-lying areas to find refuge elsewhere by Saturday afternoon.

"My plans are to get out of town... even if (the storm) doesn't hit straight up,” said Annapolis resident J.D. Macey.

Police are out warning residents, who believe if nothing else, major power outages will cripple the town for days.

Chris Jupitz, the manager of Sofi's crepes has been busy preparing the thin French pancakes, but his mind is on the looming hurricane. Every weekend the store has to stay close costs him “a couple thousand dollars," he said.

Many businesses in downtown Annapolis have sandbags in place, windows have been boarded up and boat slips are empty. The city has been handing out sandbags.

John Earman reinforced his house in Neeld Estates in Calvert County with plywood and raised all the furniture onto concrete blocks. He expects Irene to push waters even higher than Hurricane Isabel did in 2003. Earman’s neighbors raised their house off the ground after Isabel.

Many hope a seawall built after the 2009 nor'easter will save their homes from storm surge and winds. Three schools are opened as temporary shelters in Calvert County.

ABC7 meteorologist Dough Hill expects sustained winds coming from the east, which will slowly become northeasterly as Irene passes by the Bay.

"If they are facing directly east and northeast, they are going to see the water levels get higher and higher and higher,” Hill said.

Four to six hours of sustained winds pushing against the bay will keep tides from draining for a while.

"I expect by 3 or 4 o'clock Sunday morning here where I am (by the Chesapeake Bay) the water will be over my head," Hill said. "I am afraid they are in for a really rough time.”

Because of its location on the bay, the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa will face that high water and those unrelenting winds. The owners plan to keep the hotel open but they will close one of its restaurants. "We know Mother Nature is in charge and we are going to take every precaution," they said.

A hurricane warning is in effect for St. Mary’s County in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Potomac River. Officials have also warned residents to watch for flash flooding in the entire Baltimore-Washington metro region and southern Maryland.

Arlington County declared a local emergency Friday.

Power outages likely for several days, Pepco says

A tropical storm warning was issued for Washington, D.C. District residents can pick up sandbags (up to five per household) at the D.C. Department of Public Works at New Jersey Avenue and K Street Southeast. Residents have to show their D.C. ID to receive the sandbags, which weigh between 40 lbs. and 50 lbs.

People lined up to receive sandbags starting Friday at noon. Two truckloads of sandbags were all given out in Old Town in 10 minutes. By 5 p.m., the department had passed out all of its 7,000 bags. It said 2,700 more would arrive by Saturday morning. Distributing will start at noon in Lot 7 at RFK Stadium, the city said.

In the City of Alexandria, sandbags were out after heavy demand for them. The city said it is looking to restock.

In Alexandria and Washington, crews raced to clean out sewers and storm drains. Pepco has called in hundreds of extra crews from out of state in anticipation of Irene.

Pepco says it is likely some will be without power for several days. Wind is the biggest variable for the utility company, which has staffed up its phone operations so customers can report emergencies.

In Bethesda, Carlos Gonzalez lugged his furniture to safety. He and Pepco's other 640,000 customers received robo-calls Friday, urging them to prepare for “the possibility of extended and widespread outages.”

“Hopefully maybe they get it together. A lot of people are angry at them,” Gonzalez said.

The Georgetown Safeway sold out of bottled water and other items such as flashlights and batteries were difficult to come by as well.

“I was really grateful because I got the last crank radio thing that they had,” said Marjorie Chorlins.

Marianne Razzino returned to her Belle View community along the Potomac in Fairfax County after fleeing the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “And now I'm home from vacation a day early, perfect timing to evacuate my basement storage unit,” she said.

Gene Fischer can't believe we're preparing for a second natural disaster in less then a week. “My nerves are still up from that earthquake,” he says as he watches dozens of boats lifted onshore at Belle Haven Marina.

“As easy and as lucky as we got out of the earthquake hopefully we'll get out of this storm the same way,” Fischer hopes. But just in case, “I don't plan on sleeping Saturday night too much,” he said.

Along the Occoquan River in Prince William County, people are preparing their businesses and homes.

Storeowner Jackie Liedle is keeping her spirits up. “We might have a little power outage for awhile. They'll take care of it… we'll be okay,” Liedle says.

The nearby high dam can control some water flow. “You just kinda keep your fingers crossed and pray,” store employee Bette Korkowski said.

Irene approaches as Category 2 storm

Irene remained a Category 2 storm Friday, with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph. Virginia was expected to start feeling the storm Saturday, with its track taking it near Virginia Beach early Sunday.

McDonnell, a Virginia Beach resident before he became governor, said mandatory evacuations are in force for low-lying areas along the Chesapeake and its tributaries.

In Virginia, people who defy mandatory evacuations could be prosecuted for it.

Virginia Beach officials ordered the mandatory evacuation of Sandbridge, a barrier island known for its vacation rentals rather than high-rises, but had not issued a similar order for the city's oceanfront. Mandatory evacuations also were ordered for Accomack County, Poquoson and low-lying areas of Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth and the counties of Mathews and Middlesex.

The College of William and Mary is canceling classes and closing residence halls effective Friday through Monday. Only offices open are administrative offices.

Metro gets ready with sandbags, chainsaws

Amtrak canceled trains traveling south of Washington for Friday through Sunday. On Friday, Amtrak said it is also is reducing service along the East Coast starting Saturday. No trains will run in the Northeast on Sunday, Aug. 28.

The cancellations include service between Washington and Boston, New York and Harrisburg, Pa. from Washington to St. Albans, Vt., and the Northeast Regional services in Virginia as well as several long-distance trains.

Maryland Transit Administration says-light rail and local buses will run as weather permits.

Metro would have to close above-ground lines if winds reach more than 45 mph, as well as if there is severe flooding. The transportation agency has outfitted rail operators with chainsaws to move debris out of the way if necessary. Crews have placed more than 2,000 sandbags around escalators in stations prone to flooding.

The transit agency said riders should allow additional travel time and check the WMATA website and Twitter feed for updates.

A spokesman for Virginia Beach said the city is asking visitors to "use their best judgment" when it comes to Irene.

"We're not telling people to get out and we're not telling people to stay," said Marc Davis.

As waves rolled onto the wide beach, only a smattering of visitors was on a beach that normally would be packed on a sunny, hot Friday.

Dawson Taylor, 88, was one of the handful of people strolling down the 3-mile boardwalk. He owns 10 hardware stores in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. "We've had two fantastic days, of course, selling hurricane supplies," he said. "Batteries, water, plywood - everything you can think of."

But Dawson, who reminisced about a 1933 storm that slammed Virginia Beach, said Irene has got him worried. "I'm concerned about this one," he said. "I've been through a lot of them, but 110 miles sustained winds, that concerns me a little bit."

Tim Riley, a battalion chief with the Virginia Beach Fire Department, said officials were confident a recent beach replenishment that tripled the width of the beach, to 300 feet, and an elevated boardwalk shields the city's main tourism drag from storms. He said the seawall was built to withstand storm surges of up to 16 feet. He said most of the major high-rises were also built to weather fierce storms.

Down the road in Sandbridge, where a mandatory evacuation took effect at noon, traffic was light on the only road out of town and several people enjoyed the beach Friday morning.

At Sandbridge Community Chapel, workers lined glass doorways with sandbags and brought plastic playground equipment inside to keep it from blowing away. Homeowners in the area boarded up windows at their cottages with plywood and moved loose items like outdoor chairs, benches and grills inside.

John Landbeck of Aberdeen, Md., spent Friday morning packing up the vacation home he was renting and pulling his fishing boat out of the water. He planned to ride out the storm at a hotel in Chesapeake and return to his rental for another two weeks once the storm passed.

"We won't sit out in a storm like this, that's stupid," he said.

Tropical storm force winds are expected Saturday in Virginia with the storm's brunt coming in Sunday morning's wee hours.

The storm that is making its way up the East Coast is supposed to pound the area with rain and possible flooding.