Downtown Annapolis, Maryland, experiences some flooding during prolonged rains on Sept. 10, 2018. Meanwhile, Hurricane Florence is heading toward the Eastern seaboard. (Karen Denny/Capital News Service.)

By Savannah Williams and Harrison Cann
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — From chicken houses to festivals, business, agencies and residents across Maryland are preparing for Hurricane Florence.

Florence, as of Tuesday afternoon a Category 4 storm in the Atlantic Ocean, was expected to hit the Carolinas as early as Thursday. According to the National Weather Service, high winds and heavy rain could reach Maryland by the weekend, depending on the storm’s course.

Farmers are preparing for the storm much as they did for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, said James Fisher, communications manager at Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. Delmarva has more than 5,000 chicken houses throughout Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

Fisher said they are telling farmers to get started on storm prep early, encouraging them to have enough chicken feed and fuel for generators to last several days.

“Farmers are also making sure storm water channels in and around houses are free so they can work as designed… Chicken farmers are more than willing to get muddy, wet and dirty on the farm if it means keeping their chickens safe,” Fisher said.

Some of the most important steps residents could take are to fill their tubs with potable drinking water and look up their hurricane evacuation zone by home address, said Jorge Castillo, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. The system, new this year, features three different evacuation zones by level of urgency.

“There’s a couple things (Marylanders) can do,” Castillo said. “No. 1 is to take this storm seriously. It just takes one storm to change your life.”

He suggested planning ways to communicate with family and neighbors during the storm, and in case of evacuation to know where your family would go, and where and when to reconvene if you get separated. He also recommended that pet owners call ahead to learn whether hotels will host furry companions.

Castillo warned against driving over flooded roads, saying that was how most people end up dying or putting rescue workers in danger during hurricanes.

“If you can’t see the road, if it’s underwater, you have to turn around,” Castillo said.

Regina Averella, a public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said most of the calls they recieve for roadside assistance come near the start of a storm and taper off as motorists heed warnings to stay off the roads.

“We’re up and going during the storm,” Averella said, but qualified: “If you do not have to be out in a storm, certainly stay off the roadways.”

Averella said motorists should check their gas tanks, tire pressure, windshield wipers and headlights before traveling, and should be sure to bring cash, medications and important documents with them. She said these could be IDs, birth certificates, adoption records, financial paperwork and something for proof of residence, like a utility bill.

She also recommended calling airlines and checking state departments of transportation websites to learn about potential road closures and flight cancellations along travel routes. This is Maryland’s.

As for boat travel, both high water and high winds are concerns. With minor flooding affecting Annapolis early in the week, Carol Robinson, who spends her summers in the Eastport neighborhood, said she anticipates even more of a surge in tides once the hurricane hits landfall.

Most people are already moving their boats inland or away from the bay, Robinson said. She said she moored her 30-foot wooden sailboat in Annapolis on Tuesday, making sure to tie double lines for her boat and belongings.

Howard County, Maryland, Emergency Management Director Ryan Miller said his office started reverse-timelining last week–planning what steps they’d need to take, by when.

“I would say our biggest concern right now is the wind,” Miller said. “We could still have some tropical-storm force winds during the storm. That, coupled with the saturated soil conditions, could topple trees.”

He said this could result in power outages, blocked roadways and property damage.

Miller is charged with preparing the especially vulnerable Ellicott City, Maryland, where many businesses are still rebuilding after two devastating floods–one that swept through in 2016 and the other in May. He said from monitoring hurricane models Tuesday, it looked like the risk of flash-flooding in Ellicott City was decreasing, but they were still battening down some construction sites there.

According to Miller, even though Florence is a serious storm, it did have one advantage over thunderstorms–“A hurricane comes more slowly… you know when the risk is getting there.”

With time to prepare, Baltimore Gas & Electric is planning on having an additional 800 line workers and tree personnel ready for storm response, said Justin Mulcahy, communications manager. He said utility companies will work on “mutual assistance,” sending resources to the areas that get hit the hardest.

Ryan Lamy, owner of Pip’s Dock Street Dogs, said he’s seen it all during the nine years his shop’s been on Dock Street in Annapolis, and despite his best efforts before, flooding is still a problem.

Lamy said he used to place sandbags in the store to keep water from coming in from the street, but has since stopped.

“(Sandbags) just turn into 100-pound sponges,” Lamy said. “Once the storm drains fill up, the water comes in through the floor drains and then the sandbags keep it in.”

Management at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, Maryland, has been anxiously watching the clouds, too.

Jules Smith, general manager of the festival, said he had to weigh safety with profit when deciding whether to close the outdoor festival for the storm. As of publishing time, he hadn’t yet made a decision for the coming weekend.

“We park people in grass fields, and people walk through a wooded area on natural terrain,” Smith said.

But the festival is only open for nine weekends in 2018, according to its website. Cutting one of those out could deliver a financial blow to Smith, his vendors and his employees. He said they usually try to be open “rain or shine.”

“My vendors only have so many opportunities to be open, and they’ve given up other opportunities to be here,” Smith said.

He said he was watching hurricane models closely, but he didn’t expect much damage to the festival grounds.

“People say the day before and the day after a hurricane are the nicest days you’ll ever see,” Smith said. “We only really have about seven tents, and they are lighter structures… but we’ve survived other hurricanes, and we’ve survived tropical storms and we’ve survived an earthquake.”

Insurance companies are also bracing for the worst. Mike DeFiore and Machelle Johnson, claims representatives with Avery Hall Insurance in Salisbury, Maryland, said they are on high alert ahead of the hurricane.

DeFiore said they are advising their customers to have their policy numbers and agent phone numbers on hand in case of damage and to take pictures before starting cleanup. They said to keep an inventory of damaged items but also get any water out as quickly as possible.

“That was the problem with (Hurricane) Sandy,” Johnson said. “It took so long to get out there that the mold sets in, then you have to take drywall out and treat support beams.”