Hurricane Irene brings flooding to coastal Virginia
Coastal Virginia residents coped with downed trees, power lines and some serious flooding Saturday night as a massive but weakened Hurricane Irene moved up the East Coast.
"A lot of our low-lying areas are experiencing flooding," said Steve Cover, Virginia Beach fire chief, at about 10 p.m. EDT as the eye of the storm was about 10 miles away.
Dominion Power reported that nearly 800,000 Virginia customers lost power Saturday evening and three deaths were reported in the state, all due to trees falling on buildings and cars, killing occupants.
About 8 p.m., the storm blew forcefully off Chesapeake Bay into Annapolis, Md., causing localized flooding and getting the attention of even the most storm-seasoned residents of the city of 38,000.
At the time, the historic downtown area was open, with small numbers of customers at the bars and restaurants. The winds picked up over the next two hours, sometimes hitting 50 mph, according to Rhonda Wardlaw, the city's spokeswoman.
As the weather worsened, "People figured it was time to go home," she said.
By 10 p.m., most of the bars had closed, as had major roads and bridges.
"We have heavy wind gusts and horizontal rain continuing," she said at 11 p.m. "We are in the middle of the peak of the storm." Wardlaw said the city was experienced flooding in low-lying areas, affecting 500 to 1,000 homes.
Farther north, Pennsylvania residents nervously awaited the storm. For the first time in more than a decade, Philadelphia declared a state of emergency. Residents in low-lying areas were evacuated to shelters in several parts of the state.
Nerves were jangled but there were some light moments, even in Virginia Beach.
As Weather Channel reporter Eric Fisher delivered a newscast from a Virginia Beach street, a group of half-dressed men sauntered into camera range.
“One thing that has not decreased, that we'd like to see, is the traffic; no shortage of incredibly -- well, I'll bite my tongue -- people who have been coming out,” he said as the group appeared behind him during the live shot.
“We're talking about dozens of people who have walked by me,” he said as he spotted the group, and then turned back toward the camera. Seconds later, one of the men dropped his shorts.
“People like what you see behind me, which I apologize for," he continued. "I don't even want to show it. At this point, I don't even want to show you any more.”
A bit farther north, in the Washington area, the storm was a constant presence but not so threatening that it closed bars and restaurants.
"We are here and we plan to be here until the floodwaters come," said Kirsten Fiery, a bartender at the Quarry House, a venerable bar in downtown Silver Spring, Md., a gritty first-ring suburb of Washington.
Fiery was not speaking entirely in jest: The basement pub has flooded numerous times during severe storms that have blown in over its 70-year history. As of 10 p.m., the wood-paneled bar was open, music was playing and the crowd was buoyant -- but small for a Saturday night.
"I guess people are afraid they'll blow away,” Fiery said.
Murphy's Grand Irish Pub in downtown Alexandria, Va., about seven blocks from the city dock where TV crews had staked out spots to watch the Potomac waters rise, had live music and a full bar Saturday night.
Manager Greg Davis said he hoped the storm's winds wouldn't pick up until after the pub had closed down.
“It's kind of business as usual," Davis said. "We weren't really sure what we're going to get. We're slower than usual, but we've got a full bar on both floors and people seem to be in a good mood."
-- Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger in Silver Spring, Md., and Washington, D.C.
Photo: A small car gets stuck on a flooded roadway near Rudee Inlet as Hurricane Irene hits Virginia Beach, Va. Credit: Steve Helber/Associated Press