Update, 6:00 p.m.:
Gov. Martin O’Malley and MEMA Executive Director Richard Muth laid out details of the state’s preparation for Hurricane Irene late Friday, saying the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is likely to be closed in the early evening Saturday.
O'Malley said he plans to sleep at MEMA headquarters in Reisterstown Saturday night to keep abreast of storm response.
After the storm, it will be up to local jurisdictions to determine when people can return to evacuated areas. Decisions will be determined by the amount of damage as well as the presence of water barriers.
He said the Bay Bridge is likely to close in the early evening hours on Saturday depending on winds and where the storm is located but people should not wait until Saturday to leave.
Original Post, 2:25 p.m.: In his second press conference at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) in Reisterstown, Gov. Martin O’Malley strengthened his message to Maryland residents in low-lying areas to head for higher ground.
O’Malley had tough words for residents in Somerset, Dorchester, Wicomico and Worcester Counties, including Ocean City. He has ordered evacuations from what could be life-threatening situations in those areas due to high winds and rain.
“It is the height of stupidity and the height of selfishness for any citizen to stay in Ocean City and put a burden on and risk the lives of first responders by being foolish, being stupid, or being selfish,” O’Malley said.
“This is a mandatory evacuation order. It is not something that the mayor of Ocean City or I have ordered lightly. It has not been done in modern times and people need to get off the island of Ocean City and not be a burden to their fellow citizens or to first responders who are going to have plenty of other important work to do.”
O'Malley huddled with state cabinet members for 45 minutes in a meeting that included a conference call with President Obama, as well as governors and mayors of other states and major cities lying in Hurricane Irene’s projected path.
The storm, which MEMA Executive Director Richard Muth said is anticipated to hit Maryland around 6 p.m. Saturday, will remain in the region for a 20-24 hour period and likely dissipate by the early evening hours on Sunday.
In emphasizing both preparedness and awareness during the hurricane, both Muth and O’Malley encouraged the use of MEMA’s new “Osprey Map,” an interactive site that allows those in the path of the hurricane to check storm surges, weather forecasts, traffic conditions and more by simply entering their home address.
“That’s probably the best tool we have to get information out,” Muth said. “They try to break it down as easy as possible. If you type in an address, it will show you the address on the map and show the storm and the areas of concern around you. You can look at the map or read text if that’s easier for you.”
Muth pointed out that although MEMA’s Reisterstown location—staffed with anywhere between 75 and 100 people when fully activated during a weather crisis—is the main “nerve center” for operations, every county in Maryland has an emergency operation center and all the locations are in constant communication.
It is that level of communication coupled with the preparedness of the Maryland public, that, O’Malley said, will help reduce damage and injury in the state.
“In this event, we need to do it better than we have ever and in a more timely and accurate way than we ever had because there will be events that we cannot anticipate and our ability to be aware and situationally aware is something critically important to safeguarding lives in our state,” O’Malley said.
“The most important thing right now is getting out word to all of our citizens who may live in low-lying coastal areas and warning them that this a killer and a very deadly storm and is not to be taken lightly.”