Mid-Atlantic braces for storm amid warm weather

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. -- While emergency management officials throughout the mid-Atlantic region braced Friday for an onslaught of wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy, residents and visitors took advantage of the calm before the storm.

Sunny skies and unseasonably warm weather drew people to the sands and boardwalk of Rehoboth Beach, even as officials warned people to monitor the approaching storm and be prepared to evacuate if need be.

"There's really nothing you can do about it. I just take it as it comes," said Pete Patson, 90, a Rehoboth resident who was strolling the boardwalk. Patson said he plans to stay with a daughter who lives about five miles inland if things get bad.

Meanwhile, workers in Ocean City, Md., filled sandbags, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley declared a state of emergency.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell did not issue an evacuation order Friday, but officials were monitoring the storm closely.

"Delaware is smack dab in the crosshairs based on the current path projections," said Chip Guy, a spokesman for Sussex County, home to southern Delaware's beaches. Forecasters expect the hurricane to turn inland around Delaware, but said it could still hit as far north as New York.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that wherever the storm comes ashore, there will be 10 inches of rain and extreme storm surges. Up to 2 feet of snow could fall on West Virginia, with lighter snow in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In Washington, D.C., officials were preparing for heavy rains starting Sunday afternoon and lasting at least into Monday. Christopher Geldart, director of the District of Columbia's homeland security and emergency management agency, said residents should be ready to lose power, perhaps for several days, and for flooding in low-lying areas.

"We want to just make sure that folks understand that this could be a very significant power outage event, similar to what we had with the derecho," Geldart said, referring to a powerful windstorm last summer that knocked out power to millions of people.

Crews were working Friday in the district to distribute sandbags to residents of flood-prone areas and to clean out leaves from catch basins.

Geldart said there would be at least two designated shelters in each of the district's wards in case of an emergency.

In Ocean City, Md., public works director Hal Adkins was hoping to stockpile 1,000 sandbags before the predicted arrival of heavy rain and high winds on Saturday night. Foul weather is expected through Tuesday as the storm meets a cold front approaching from the west.

In central Maryland, the city of Baltimore was offering sandbags to residents in the Fells Point area, which is subject to flooding during storms. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged residents to prepare for severe weather that she says has the potential, depending on its location, to create storm surge similar to Tropical Storm Isabel, which caused severe flooding in 2003.

Workers at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore were fueling generators and stockpiling dry ice to ensure that the animals are fed if power goes out.

The so-called "Frankenstorm" was starting to mess with some people's Halloween plans. The city of Newark, Del., cancelled Sunday's Halloween parade. But officials in Rehoboth Beach proceeded Friday with plans for the popular Sea Witch Halloween and Fiddlers Festival. The event, which began Friday, typically attracts more than 150,000 visitors to Rehoboth each fall.

Sandy's approach didn't scare away a group of women from New Jersey who make the annual trek for the Sea Witch festival and were sunning themselves on the beach Friday. But Debbie Post, 53, said she and her friends would cut their visit short and leave Sunday.

"We've still got to get back and batten down our hatches in Jersey," she said.