Utility and emergency response officials prepared for the worst Friday as
Forecast models continued to shift Sandy's projected track late Friday, with the storm's outer bands at least two days away, though the
Emergency management officials warn that the impact of the storm could last for days, depending on where it makes landfall. The predicted path into the Eastern Shore would be devastating. Even if the storm passes to the north, as some models suggested Friday, heavy winds and rain are still expected.
"We're in a very serious situation," said Robert Maloney, director of the Baltimore mayor's Office of Emergency Management. "There's no good-case scenario, because you don't know what poison pill you want. If this storm goes on its projected path, we're going to be doing something until next Friday."
BGE officials aim to have the necessary crews ready before Sandy arrives. About 800 are committed to the utility and are en route from Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana and as far away as Texas and New Mexico, officials said. A much shorter window of warning from the July 29 derecho made it difficult for the utility to gather the 1,500 needed workers, and some outages lasted a week.
Crews will begin repairing outages when winds calm to below 25 mph, officials said.
"While our crews will be in place and our staging site equipped before the arrival of the storm, the projected high winds and heavy rain may result in extended power outages," Jeannette M. Mills, BGE's chief customer officer, said in a statement.
Some utility customers immediately took the warnings seriously — portable generators were in high demand and short supply at local hardware stores.
James Boyd of Essex was one of the lucky few to get his hands on one. After driving to six stores Thursday night and a few more Friday morning, he stopped by the
"There were four people on their phones talking about [whether to buy] it, and I said, 'Is this one sold?'" Boyd said. "He said, 'Not yet,' so I said, 'I'll buy it.' "
The Maryland Public Service Commission called a last-minute meeting Friday to address a problem that arose during the aftermath of the derecho, when county officials around the state said they were unable to obtain specific outage locations from utilities. Commissioners agreed that electric utilities could release customer information to emergency-management officials trying to follow up with residents who lost power — particularly those with serious illnesses.
The PSC said utilities may release customers' names, addresses, telephone numbers and special-needs information to government emergency-management agencies only if the data is kept confidential and destroyed soon after power is restored. If the utility has already asked customers whether they want their information shared, as Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative has, it can't pass on information about the people who said no.
The decision applies only to the incoming storm, though PSC Chairman Douglas R.M. Nazarian said he expects the regulatory agency will discuss later how utilities should handle government appeals for power outage information at a customer level. The commission held the hearing in response to a last-minute request from BGE, which asked whether it should release information.
"Hopefully this won't have to get used," Nazarian said of the plan. But whether Sandy hits Maryland or not, "we will continue to think about this for the next one."
Separately, the commission also issued an order forbidding utilities from levying a charge that drew ire from customers after the derecho. The billing mechanism allowed utilities to collect small amounts from customers during the first 24 hours after a major storm even if the customers lacked power. In the order, commissioners called the policy "demoralizing to customers, who perceive an intrinsic unfairness in paying for service they did not receive."
Hurricane Sandy was already causing transportation disruptions Friday as transit officials were working to prepare for the storm.
The 2,124-passenger cruise ship Carnival Pride is trying to fight its way back to the relative safety of Baltimore's harbor.
Passenger Chris Ann Szep, a vice president at Cecil College, described in an email the dash to stay beyond the grasp of the growing storm that has left passengers anxious to return home as soon as possible.
The ship, which left Baltimore last Saturday, spent just four hours at Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean on Wednesday before steaming north ahead of the storm. Instead of going to the Bahamas, the captain turned for
"Weather is very concerning and yet we are told Carnival won't return us to Baltimore until our scheduled time of 8 a.m. Sunday," she wrote. "If we are in danger [from] Sandy's destruction why won't Carnival get us off this ship as soon as possible instead of holding passengers hostage at sea?"
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the ship has had to change its itinerary several times, including dropping two ports of call, to keep its distance from Sandy. Carnival aims to get the ship back a couple of hours earlier, he said, allowing passengers to still have "some decent vacation time."
All around Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard in
Jim and Carol O'Connell of Olney bought two oversize fenders to add to the smaller ones that protect their Catalina 350 from collisions with the dock.
"We will put a second set of lines on," said Jim O'Connell, which should better secure the 35-foot sailboat as it rides out the storm.
Marina manager Dirk Jabin said the call came repeatedly Friday: "Haul me out, haul me out."
"We are getting phone calls from a lot of worried customers who want their boats out," he said. "So far, we've done 30, 40 boats in the past couple of days. We'll be going all day Saturday."