D.C. area takes its turn with Hurricane Irene
As Hurricane Irene's surge reached the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on Saturday afternoon, coastal Maryland and Virginia began feeling the strength of the storm.
In Ocean City, Md., police stopped patrolling at about 7 p.m. as winds picked up and streets became flooded.
The city had been effectively evacuated since midnight Thursday, with only 200 or so people remaining, according to city communications officer Donna Abbott. Speaking from the town’s emergency center, Abbott said police were still responding to emergency calls Saturday evening, but that those could be halted if sustained winds over 50 mph continued for 10 minutes or more.
Police in tidewater Virginia communities imposed a curfew, asking that no one travel during evening hours within the city limits of Portsmouth and Hampton, Va. Officials in Virginia Beach opened shelters and ordered residents to evacuate several low-lying areas.
As of 7 p.m. Eastern, a storm surge of at least 4 feet had occurred at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, and the National Hurricane Center was predicting the surge could go as high as 8 feet.
Washington and its suburbs were drenched but not badly disabled Saturday afternoon and early evening as bands of rain and wind started to hit the region. Anxiety and anticipation took the biggest toll during the day.
Checkstands at a grocery store in Washington's northwest quadrant were backed up as residents stocked up on food and emergency supplies.
Traffic became gridlocked around Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy stadium, where the city was distributing free sandbags. Residents waited hours in line only to be told in the late afternoon that the supply was exhausted.
Frustrated residents then learned that buying sandbags also was not an option. The Strosnider’s Hardware chain sold out of all sandbags at its three suburban Maryland locations early in the day. Power outages were reported sporadically in Maryland and Virginia as the sun set.
The district was under a flash-flood warning Saturday night, as city officials warned of winds up to 65 mph and 4 to 8 inches of rainfall.
The storm also forced officials to accelerate transfer of the last remaining inpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The facility's Red Cross flag was lowered a day early on Saturday afternoon, after original plans to close the medical center were moved up due to the impending storm.
The northwest Washington facility, which has accumulated a devoted following in its 102 years of service, had been slated for closure for years. On Saturday morning, supporters stood outside Walter Reed's gates with signs -– “Thank you for your service. We love you!” –- as an ambulance carrying the last patient turned down Georgia Avenue.
Area airports began curtailing flights. Washington’s Reagan National Airport was open, but with no flights arriving or departing Saturday evening. United Airlines said it hoped to operate most of its flights out of Dulles airport in suburban Virginia. But United Express announced it would cease operations.
-- Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger in Silver Spring, Md., and Washington, D.C.
Photo: Tourists struggle against the wind and rain while visiting the nation's capital before the arrival of Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images