The evacuation of Sussex County’s most vulnerable areas continued Friday evening as Hurricane Irene, now slightly weaker but still a very dangerous storm, remained on a collision course with the eastern United States, including Sussex County and the rest of Delaware.
Evacuation routes, including Routes 1, 113 and 13, and the east-west arteries, have been busy throughout the day with residents and visitors making their way out of at-risk areas, particularly along the Atlantic and Delaware Bay coastlines. Sussex County officials said traffic appeared to be flowing smoothly around 8 p.m., with the evacuation set to last into Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
“If there is any silver lining in what has otherwise been some rather bleak news, it’s that the public appears to be taking the threat very seriously,” said Joseph L. Thomas, director of the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center. “We think they’ve received the message loud and clear.”
Gov. Jack Markell has ordered that everyone be out of the identified evacuation zone by 9 a.m. Saturday. In Sussex, the zone includes the communities of Slaughter Beach, Prime Hook, Broadkill Beach, Long Neck and Oak Orchard, as well along the Route 1 corridor, including the areas in and around Lewes Beach, Henlopen Acres, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, North Bethany, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island.
The evacuation zone includes areas that historically are flood-prone. A map of the evacuation zone is posted on the County Web site, at www.sussexcountyde.gov.
Sussex County and State emergency planners have designated three shelters for those evacuating coastal communities and flood-prone areas in advance of Hurricane Irene. The shelters are now open to the public.
As capacity is limited, officials emphasized that the shelters should be used as a means of last resort. Residents and visitors evacuating from at-risk areas are being encouraged to seek refuge with family or friends elsewhere, if possible.
The shelters are located at: Indian River High School, 29772 Armory Road, Dagsboro (pets accepted); Milford High School, 1019 N. Walnut St., Milford (pets accepted); and Beacon Middle School, 19482 John J. Williams Highway, Lewes (no pets).
Those visiting a shelter are being reminded to take adequate clothing, medications, sleeping materials, and food for themselves, their families and/or their pets (where accepted). Shelters will be staffed by the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula (www.redcrossdelmarva.org).
A hurricane warning remains in effect for Sussex County. Forecasters said they do not expect Sussex County to sustain a direct hit from the eye of the storm, with the center expected to pass just to the east, perhaps by about 20 or 30 miles. However, winds of at least 75 mph or more are expected across the county throughout the event, with gusts to100 mph possible. The storm is expected to be at its peak between midnight Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday.
The storm is forecast to create a surge of 3 to 6 feet of water along the oceanfront, Delaware Bay and Inland Bays, with lesser surge amounts along Chesapeake Bay tributaries, including the Nanticoke River. The storm is also expected to kick up waves of 12 to 16 feet in the surf zone, and dump as much as 7 to 10 inches of rain.
The Sussex County EOC is encouraging residents and visitors to continue monitoring the tropics and conditions as they deteriorate. For updates, stay tuned to local media, the Sussex County EOC website at www.sussexcountyde.gov/services/storm, and the County’s Twitter feeds at www.twitter.com/sussex_pio and www.twitter.com/sussexctyde_eoc. Coastal Point is making regular updates on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/coastalpoint and on Twitter at @coastalpoint.
For more information, members of the public can call the Sussex County EOC’s storm line at (302) 856-7366.
Residents still have time to prepare, whether evacuating or sheltering at home
With Delaware now under a hurricane warning and awaiting the arrival of Irene, residents are being advised to take advantage of the time ahead of the storm to review their household emergency plans and emergency supplies. While roads are still clear and safe a run can be made for last-minute items such as batteries and nonperishable foods.
Those who reside in the areas under a mandatory evacuation order (see maps at www.dema.delaware.gov) must be out of the identified area by 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. The American Red Cross has shelters established in each county; however, those evacuating are being encouraged to stay with family or friends in areas that are out of harm’s way during the storm.
Though the storm has slowed slightly as it moves up the Atlantic coastline, it is very strong and has the potential to cause significant damage to structures and the countryside. Emergency management officials are urging the public to continue to take this storm very seriously.
Delaware Emergency Management Agency Director Jamie Turner is urging everyone to make sure they have adequate emergency supplies, whether they are staying home or going to a shelter. Shelters provide meals, but those with special diets or in need of some between-meal snacks should stock up now. Those staying home must make sure they have water for the entire household, including pets, for at least three days. At least one gallon per day for each family member is required.
Water for drinking can be drawn up and stored for a few days in clean bottles, kettles, pitchers and stew pots. Water for cleaning and hygiene can be stored in plastic tubs, sinks and even the bath tub.
Turner said, “We want everyone to have food and water for at least three days – four or five days is even better. It is common to lose power in a storm like this, so light sources and means of communications are very important. Make sure you have batteries for lights and radios and a means of charging cell phones.”
He added that it is very important for the public to be aware of information and instructions from emergency officials.
Additional things to consider in planning for an emergency include food and medications for those who might have special dietary or pharmaceutical needs and/or appropriate equipment for family members who might use assistive technology. Families also need to remember the needs of pets and to have adequate food and supplies, as well as appropriate carriers or restraints should evacuation be required.
The DEMA director said a very important component of each household emergency plan is to have important documents, such as medical records, deeds or leases, insurance records and birth certificates copied and stored where they can be easily accessed and packed in case of evacuation.
National Guard ready for Hurricane Irene response
Delaware National Guard officials announced Friday evening that the Guard is ready to assist the citizens of Delaware in response to Hurricane Irene.
The Delaware National Guard is working with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and will provide a task force of 500 Guardsmen upon request of the governor for state active duty beginning immediately.
Up to 1,000 additional Delaware Guard members are available to meet any additional requests for troops to be placed on state active duty.
About 140 vehicles have been identified and are positioned and prepared, to include about 80 Humvees (Highly-Mobile-Multi-Wheeled-Vehicles) and 60 LMTVs (Light-Medium Tactical Vehicles), which are large vehicles capable of carrying numerous passengers. These 140 vehicles can be used to ford water from 2 to 4 feet deep and help evacuate citizens. Additionally, wreckers are ready for use to help remove stranded vehicles. The Delaware Army National Guard has filled and tested its potable water tankers.
About 21,000 sandbags are available, if needed, to help prevent flooding.
The Delaware Air Guard has evacuated six of their seven C-130 transport aircraft to Ohio and stored one currently non-operational aircraft secured in a hanger, to protect the aircraft against damage from high winds and to position the aircraft for missions, if needed, within Delaware upon request of the governor, or missions in other Eastern states.
The Delaware Army National Guard has evacuated four of its five UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to Pennsylvania, with one non-operational helicopter secured in a hangar.
The Delaware National Guard works in coordination with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency to assist local and state agencies in protecting the citizens and property of the First State. The Guard is typically tasked with providing transportation support, especially for dialysis patients; fire and emergency medical service support; and law-enforcement support. The Guard can also provide assistance in debris removal and providing potable water when requested by DEMA.
Members of the 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and the 166th Medical Group in the Delaware Air National Guard have notified selected medical personnel in case they are needed to assist in the evacuation of citizens in Delaware or if called upon by governors of other states if they request help via a state-to-state Emergency Management Assistance Compact.