Ahead of Hurricane Florence, Baltimore County officials make preparations, urge precautions

Forecasters are saying that Maryland will likely dodge the extreme conditions Hurricane Florence is expected to bring to the Carolinas, but officials announced Thursday that Baltimore County has placed emergency personnel on “high alert” should there be flooding and outages, and at the same time urged residents to make preparations.

“This is an excellent opportunity for all of us to remind individuals that these storms can come up quickly, and we need to be prepared,” Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler said during a press conference held at Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department on Thursday morning, led by eight county officials including local Councilwoman Cathy Bevins and a BGE representative.

Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Jay Ringgold said first responders are on high alert, ready to respond to coastal flooding in the eastern portion of the county or streams and rivers overflowing in the central and western parts of the county.

“We are extremely concerned with the streams and rivers at full capacity,” Ringgold told the audience, made up mostly of media. “Highly saturated grounds and heavy rainfall or high winds could cause significant damage.”

In anticipation of the storm, officials said they’ve deployed extra equipment to fire and rescue stations in the western, central and eastern parts of the county.

Assistant Baltimore County Fire Chief Paul Lurz said the county was not prepared to disclose which stations are being prepped ahead of time because he did not want to create an “expectation” that has to be walked back if the forecast changes.

Officials urged residents to have extra water on hand, non-perishable food and to keep their phones and other devices fully charged. The county will be sharing storm information including updates on road closures, on social media.

Police Chief Terrence Sheridan urged folks to stay off the road unless completely necessary, since motorists could obstruct roadways where access by is needed by emergency responders.

BGE had requested extra help for storm preparation from utilities in other states but Linda Foy, a BGE senior communications manager, said BGE withdrew the requests after it looked like the path of the hurricane had shifted away from Maryland.

She said BGE would wait till early next week to determine whether BGE would send crews to other regions to help.

Bevins, the County Councilwoman who represents Bowleys Quarters, said she was urging constituents to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” even with the changing forecast.

“That’s the mindset. OK, we’re going to get ready. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen,” she said.

After Hurricane Isabel hit the region in 2003, Bevins began working for then-County Executive James Smith, doing what she described as “constituent services.” She said the aftermath “went on for years.”

“Isabel didn’t just happen and the debris was cleaned up,” she said. “People were forced to build up..”

She said her office would be working to share information about emergency response, as necessary, from state and federal officials in addition to information from county officials.

‘It’s hard to leave’

Located across the street from the volunteer fire station on Bowleys Quarter Road is Beacon Light Marina. Owner Sheila Johnson said she, her husband and their employees had spent the last four days preparing for the hurricane, even though the forecast has changed.

“I’m very grateful the storm is not here. If you wait until you know where the storm is going, you’ve waited too late,” Johnson said.

In addition to taking precautionary measures at the marina, Johnson and her husband have done the same at home, which is located across Seneca Creek on Clarks Point Road. Even with the worst of Hurricane Florence staying south, she anticipates water levels to rise so they have moved things out of their basement.

When Hurricane Isabel hit, Johnson said she and her husband spent about $35,000 on repairs.

“But that was nothing. Everyone else lost their home,” she said.

Even after Hurricane Isabel, and considering what Hurricane Florence could do the area, Johnson said she could not imagine moving away from the waterfront. She has business here, friends here, real estate here.

“You just have your whole life here,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to leave.”

This story has been updated.