BREAKING NEWS: Governor urges residents to prepare for Hurricane Sandy

Take Saturday to prepare, advised Gov. Jack Markell, in light of expected high winds and heavy rain from Hurricane Sandy from Sunday through the early part of next week.

“It is forecasted to be a long-lasting event,” he said on Friday, noting that rain, wind and flooding likely. “The duration is what we are most concerned about.”

Markell said the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) was working hard already and had already requested FEMA to be with state emergency officials at Delaware’s county emergency operations centers, which will be operating on a 24-hour-a-day basis, likely starting on Sunday.

He added that all state agencies were working together ahead of the storm to be the most prepared possible, and that the State was working with the American Red Cross should the need for shelters arise. DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt explained that road closures for nighttime construction had been cancelled for Saturday overnight in northern Delaware to aid in traffic flow.

Markell advised anyone who usually sees flooding from storms to expect it, as well as wind, with this storm.

“People along the coast, where evacuation is possible — know where to go, how to get there and what to take. People inland, in areas that are prone to flooding — also be prepared to move quickly. And, everybody else — be prepared to remain in your home, possibly for days, without power” he said.

He said tying things down and bringing them in from the outside would be a “responsible step.” He also suggested that people spend a part of Saturday making sure storm drains are free from leaves, saying that sometimes the difference between certain neighborhoods flooding or not is leaves clogging up drains.

Though both Maryland and Virginia declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon, Delaware’s governor said he didn’t want to declare a state of emergency until the need arises, and that he didn’t take evacuation orders lightly. But he said that, if it did happen, the decision to evacuate would most likely be made sometime Saturday and it would be widely publicized, using both traditional social media. People can follow #SandyDE on twitter for updates and can also get updates via the State’s Facebook page.

“If we have one [a state of emergency] you can be certain it’s because it’s necessary,” he said. “If it stays on the current path, mandatory evacuation would be likely, and that decision would most likely be made Saturday.” He advised people to be watching and listening to news reports, adding that, should evacuation be ordered, they’ve “got be ready to leave during the day on Sunday.”

Jaime Turner, the director of DEMA said they have been on conference calls for the past few days with representatives from Virginia, Maryland and FEMA to have a peninsula-wide strategy in effect.

He said evacuation orders would depend on the storm’s characteristics, including rainfall, tidal flooding and flooding from rainfall, emphasizing that it was too early and too “iffy to predict which areas would need to physically evacuate.”

Markell thanked all the state agencies for their cooperation and said the communication between all the state agencies has been key, as has the State taking advantage of social media to get the word out and learning from past experiences, such as with Hurricane Irene in 2011. He added that the preparation was pretty straightforward.

“If you are in an area that has flooded before, you need to be prepared to leave... Now, we are not saying that today, but... And, everybody else, try to get out over the next 24 hours to get the supplies you need, like bottled water, flashlights, batteries and baby formula. Besides that, there are things like getting prescriptions filled, having cash and getting gas in your car,” concluded Markell. “Those would be good things to take care of tomorrow.”

DelDOT crews remove signs, prepare roadways for storm

As a precautionary measure, DelDOT crews and contractors were set to remove 12 large, span-wire overhead signs in Sussex County. The work was scheduled to start Saturday morning and continue throughout the day, until all of the identified large signs have been removed.

Officials said the span wires and flashing lights will remain in place. In most cases, only the right shoulders will require lane closures, which will last 30 minutes or less per sign. While officials said they understand that there are multiple overhead span wire signs, the following were deemed the most critical as they are located along the state’s coast line and are the largest in nature:

• Milford — Route 1 & Argos Corner, southbound and northbound lanes;

• Milton — Route 1 & SR 5 (Milton), southbound and northbound lanes;

• Route 1 & Nassau Park Road (north of Five Points), southbound and northbound lanes;

• Route 1 & Shady Road (Rehoboth), southbound and northbound lanes;

• Route 1 & Rehoboth Avenue — fire signs, southbound and northbound lanes;

• Route 1 & South Rehoboth Avenue — overhead guide signs, southbound only; and

• Route 1 & South Rehoboth Avenue— overhead guide signs, southbound only.

Additionally, maintenance crews were set to clear storm drains of brush and debris along major roads that are prone to flooding. Construction crews have begun removing un-needed equipment that could become a problem during the storm, including traffic cones and barrels, to eliminate any possible hazards resulting from high winds. Crews are also securing temporary traffic signs at construction locations, so these will resist being blown over by wind.

DelDOT is requesting that political campaigns do what they can to remove political signs along state roadways prior to the arrival of the storm; especially large signs that may become airborne.

Officials noted that, if wind speeds reach a sustained 40 mph, DeDOT will begin pulling its forces off state roads. If winds reach a sustained 50 mph, DelDOT will begin closing major bridges throughout the state.

Construction projects this weekend are being impacted as follows:

• Work on the Route 1/I-95 interchange will proceed as planned this evening, but will be suspended tomorrow morning.

• Repaving work on some lanes on I-95 will proceed tonight as planned.

• The planned closing of I-95 at the Route 202 will not take place this weekend as previously announced. The work will be rescheduled for a future weekend.

• Other than in special circumstances, such as the previously described work on I-95 and Route 1, DelDOT contractors typically don't work during the weekends.

DART First State operates in all three counties in Delaware, and is preparing for a possible storm event for next week. A special management personnel matrix has been developed to ensure adequate staff coverage. Paratransit customers are being urged to stay tuned to weather reports and be prepared for service interruptions should weather conditions deteriorate.

If a State of Emergency is declared, fixed route and paratransit service will be suspended. However, if such a declaration occurs mid-day, DART will continue to operate as long as safe road conditions and resources permit. In the event of any service interruption, DART will issue Rider Alerts. Customers should stay tuned to Rider Alerts, DART’s Web site and local media for further updates.

Indian River Inlet Bridge expected to be closed during storm

DelDOT’s bridge staff is also gearing up for inspection operations throughout the state. Both DelDOT and DNREC are lowering water levels at various dams to reduce the threat of flood waters.

Officials said beach and dune erosion remains an ongoing concern for Route 1 throughout the Indian River Inlet area. However, the new approach roads to the Indian River Inlet Bridge are approximately 100 feet farther west than the approaches to the old bridge, they noted.

Due to probable flooding and/or high winds, officials said it is likely that Route 1 from Dewey to Bethany Beach, including the Indian River Inlet River Bridge, will be closed at some point during the storm.

Officials noted that, once the storm is over, some roads and bridges may remain closed due to concern for their safety. The public is being instructed not to remove DelDOT barricades on any roads and bridges, even if flood water subsides. The closures are considered necessary because they must be inspected and possibly repaired prior to reopening.