The most powerful hurricane to threaten the Eastern Seaboard in almost two decades hit the Washington region Saturday, bringing heavy rains and high winds that plunged homes into darkness, turned trees into projectiles and caused at least eight deaths.
Early Sunday morning the storm’s toll in damage and outages continued to rise in the Washington area. Evacuations were underway in St. Mary’s County as water rose behind a dam at St. Mary’s Lake. There was damage reported to at least two buildings in the District, one of them at Georgetown University.
As winds appeared to be rising after midnight, the number of outages reported by Baltimore Gas and Electric alone jumped to nearly 300,000. More than one third of them were in Anne Arundel County.
Increasing numbers of fallen trees were reported in at least two jurisdictions, the District and Prince George’s County.
After making landfall in North Carolina, with gusts up to 115 mph, Hurricane Irene continued its fierce and relentless march north toward New York City and New England. Governors and mayors spent much of Saturday pleading with people to get out of the storm’s way.
The storm arrived at day’s first light, at a point appropriately named Cape Lookout on the Outer Banks. As the hurricane spread beyond North Carolina, the most densely populated stretch in the country all but ground to a halt.
Airlines canceled 9,000 flights along the East Coast, Amtrak stopped all trains from Boston south and Greyhound suspended bus service between Richmond and Boston for the rest of the weekend. Capital Bikeshare halted all bike rentals in the District.
The subway stopped running in New York City. The three airports serving the Washington area remained open Saturday evening, but most flights had been scratched. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge was closed at 7:35 p.m. because of severe winds and unsafe driving conditions.
Power outages increased by the hour as winds toppled trees and power lines. More than 980,000 residential and business customers of Dominion Power were without electricity early Sunday in Virginia and North Carolina, the company reported. The Richmond area and southeastern Virginia were hit hardest. At 2 a.m. Sunday the figure in Dominion’s northern Virginia region was about 86,000.
Pepco’s outage numbers rose about 180,000 around 2 a.m. Sunday.
Of BGE’s nearly 300,000 outages, most were reported in Anne Arundel County and Prince George’s County, with 94,000 and 21,000 customers affected, respectively.
At one point, tens of thousands of customers of the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative were without power, a large number in St. Mary’s County.
Outages were increasing in Maryland on Sunday morning as the storm drove north along the coast of the Delmarva region.
“This is a very dangerous time,” Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said around 8 p.m., warning there could be tidal flooding in Hampton Roads with a storm surge of at least eight feet.
Early this morning wind gusts in the Washington area continued to rise above 40 mph.
Three deaths in Virginia were among at least seven that were linked to the storm. An 11-year-old boy died in Newport News when a tree fell on his apartment. The Newport News Daily Press reported that he was in bed beside his mother, who was not injured. Falling trees also caused the deaths of two other people in Brunswick and Chesterfield counties, though no details were available.
A death was reported in the Queenstown area of Queen Anne’s County in Maryland. Kevin Aftung, the county’s chief of emergency services, said a tree fell on a chimney of a house and the resulting damage caused fatal injuries to a woman inside.
The full extent of the storm damage won’t be known until after the hurricane weakens, sometime late Sunday.
In Norfolk, as Irene heralded itself with sheets of rain and howling gusts of wind that peaked around 60 mph, a massive water main break on a city street erupted about 4 p.m. and sprayed water like a geyser at least 30 feet in the air. WAVY Channel 10 news reported that some residents had no water, particularly in low-lying areas of the city.
Even before Irene made landfall, President Obama signed emergency declarations for nine states, allowing the federal government to pay some costs and assist in cleanup.
Cities up and down the East Coast were particularly vulnerable to its fury.
Houses in Virginia Beach were sliced open, and some empty homes were looted.
And in New York City, where 370,000 people were ordered to evacuate, the city girded for the storm’s crippling impact. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg warned that high-rise buildings were likely to suspend elevator service so that no one would be trapped during a power outage. A storm surge is likely to send water streaming through the streets of Lower Manhattan and Wall Street, and electricity would be cut before that happens.