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Mid-Atlantic region shuttered as storm bears down

By Jessica Gresko

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 29 2012 10:54 a.m. MDT

Brandon White of Watermark, a tour and charter boat company, ties one of the company's boats to a pier in Annapolis, Md. as Hurricane Sandy approaches the East Coast Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, forcing the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.

Steve Ruark, Associated Press

OCEAN CITY, Md. — Government offices, schools, courthouses and transit systems shut down in the mid-Atlantic region Monday as Hurricane Sandy off the coast kicked up a threatening combination of pounding rain, wind and tidal surges.

Officials implored residents to stay off the roads while imposing evacuation orders that affected thousands of residents in low-lying coastal communities, primarily in Delaware.

In Washington, the federal and local governments closed along with the courts, public schools and the Metro system that serves about 1.2 million weekday customers. Dozens of flights in and out of two critical airports, Ronald Reagan Washington National and Dulles International, were canceled. Tourist attractions like the Smithsonian museums were off-limits, and shelters opened to feed and house hundreds.

With Sandy bringing top sustained winds of 85 mph and hurtling on a predicted path toward Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, utilities warned power outages could affect millions and last for a week. As of Monday morning, outages in Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia were only sporadic.

No pocket of the region appeared safe from Sandy's impact. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said his state was "right in the crosshairs" of the storm and urged people to stay off the road for the next 36 hours.

"The days ahead are going to be very difficult," O'Malley said. "There will be people who die and are killed in this storm."

In mountainous western Maryland, a blizzard warning was issued for sections of Garrett County for Monday night into Tuesday morning.

O'Malley said the forecast for Maryland worsened Monday morning and he predicted Chesapeake Bay flooding would be reminiscent of the worst hurricanes in the state's history: Gloria in 1985 and Agnes in 1972.

The stormy Atlantic Ocean covered the beach in Ocean City, where an ocean pier was significantly damaged. Tracy Lind, a front desk worker at a Holiday Inn & Suites, said the damaged pier was part of the fabric of the resort town, frequented by fishermen and visited by tourists and locals seeking a close-up look at the ocean.

"It's kind of like an icon in Ocean City. It's the closest people can get to the ocean without getting in," Lind said. "I always thought that it would withstand anything."

Mayor Rick Meehan said about 100 to 150 feet of the eastern part of the fishing pier was damaged. He also said there was significant flooding in a downtown area where officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation. About 200 people were staying in the evacuated area, police said.

While no injuries have been reported, the flooding is the worst the town has seen since Gloria, Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald said.

"The sun will shine in Ocean City again," Theobald said.

In Baltimore's waterfront Fells Point neighborhood, where the city had dumped a 4-foot-tall mound of sand, Marcus Alsup was loading sandbags for neighbors Monday morning. Alsup, 54, said he doesn't live in a waterfront area, but residents with low-lying basements were concerned about heavy rains.

"I got up this morning and figured people would need some help," Alsup said.

In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell ordered the evacuation of about 50,000 people in coastal communities while Wilmington, the state's largest city, evacuated a low-lying area that is home to about 3,000 residents.

Jackson Grimes rode in a humble Wilmington Parks and Recreation shuttle bus to the American Red Cross shelter in New Castle, Del., but arrived in style, dressed in a navy blazer, striped purple bow tie and derby hat.

"You never know who you'll meet," Grimes said after a pizza dinner with about 30 others in the William Penn High School cafeteria.

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