UPDATE: State of emergency declared for Delaware and its beaches

First State emegency planners have advice for those on vacation now or planning to come this weekend: leave now and stay home. To enforce that edict Governor Jack Markell is declaring a state of emergency at 6pm Thursday. That includes a mandatory evacuation of all beach visitors.

Governor Markell says anyone visiting the Delaware beaches from Fenwick, Bethany, Bethany Beach, Dewey, Rehoboth, and all the way up to Lewes should not wait to leave. “They should leave tonight if they can,” he said in a conference call to the news media. He added that no one should attempt to come into the area. He says his concern is so great there could be a situation if winds are high enough that the Roth bridge over the C&D canal may have to be closed. He says precautions are being taken along the coastal stretch of Route 1 as well. All of this comes as Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley warns residents to get out of Ocean City, Md. Many of those residents will use Delaware’s Route 1 as an evacuation route.

The Governor did say all state offices will be open on Friday.

The University of Delaware are asking all students to stay home and NOT move on to campus this weekend. The first classes won’t begin on Tuesday August 30th as previously scheduled. The University plans to update the school website and asks people to monitor news organizations.

Meantime, Dover Air Force Base officials are preparing ahead of Irene. Airmen are filling sandbags, securing buildings and conducting emergency management operations.

As a normal precaution, the base says it plans to evacuate aircraft out of the storm’s path.

Delmarva Power is telling all of its customers to take precautions, especially if medical assistance is needed. Their suggestions include:

· Have adequate prescription medicines or infant supplies on hand. · If you or someone you know uses life-support equipment that requires electricity to operate, identify a location with emergency power capabilities and make plans to go there or to a hospital during a prolonged outage. · Assemble an emergency “storm kit.” Include a battery-powered radio or television, flashlight, a first-aid kit, battery-powered or windup clock, extra batteries, special needs items, an insulated cooler and a list of important and emergency phone numbers. · Keep at least a three-day supply of non-perishable foods and bottled water and have a hand-operated can opener available. · Have a telephone with a cord or cell phone to use as a backup. Cordless telephones require electricity to operate, and won’t work if there is an outage. · Protect your electronic equipment. Unplug sensitive electronics or plug computers and other sensitive equipment into surge suppressors, and consider a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for temporary battery backup power. · Turn off power to flood-prone basement appliances if it is safe to do so. However, if you have an electrically operated sump pump, you should not turn off your power. · Tune in to local news broadcasts for the latest weather and emergency information. · Follow the advice of your local emergency management officials. · Take cover if necessary. · Stay away from downed wires.

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The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center (as of 11 a.m.) calls for the center of the Category 3 storm to pass about 40 to 50 miles off the Delaware coast late Saturday into early Sunday. The storm is expected to be lessen to a Category 2 by that time, but the sustained winds will still be blowing at around 100 miles per hour.

While those hurricane force winds are not expected to come ashore, Sussex County could see sustained winds of 50 to 75 mph or more, with gusts to 100 mph. Storm surge could reach 2 to 5 feet along the oceanfront and the bays. Rainfall could be as high as 12 inches.While the storm is not expected to hit Delaware directly, as the storm passes about 75 to 100 miles off the coast, hurricane-force winds, flooding and 10 inches of rain are expected.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell says he’s been monitoring the storm for days, “Unfortunately overnight it’s tracking closer to Delaware, obviously we were hoping it would go the other way.” Markell is urging residents to get ready today, before the storm gets closer. “This is a time where we hope for the best and plan for the worst. We’ll be following it all day, but it’s a bit scary at this moment.”

Sussex County Emergency Operations Center director Joseph Thomas says while the forecast track is still evolving, “It appears more likely we’re in for some very significant weather this weekend.” He says, “Now is the time that everyone should be using to prepare themselves and their property for the strong possibility of flooding rains, storm surge and high winds.”

That preparation, Thomas says, should include securing loose objects including lawn chairs and trash cans to prevent those objects from becoming flying projectiles in high winds.

The current forecast shows potential tidal flooding in low-lying areas, especially along the oceanfront and the Delaware Bay shoreline. A storm surge of 2 to 4 feet is possible, on top of the 5 to 10 inches of rain.

As far as the timing of the storm, forecasters expect the storm to pass by Delaware late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. The storm is expected to move out of the region later in the day on Sunday.

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