Waves Pound Maryland Coast As Hurricane Nears

Audie Cornish speaks with Larry Abramson in Ocean City, Md., about the impact of Hurricane Sandy. The storm has already destroyed the town's fishing pier and sent floodwaters pouring into low-lying areas

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Powerful winds, heavy rain, flooding and widespread power outages, and Hurricane Sandy has not yet made landfall, although it is expected to this evening. The category one hurricane is moving faster than predicted, packing 90-mile-an-hour winds, and it's barreling directly towards southern New Jersey and Delaware.

SIEGEL: For millions of people throughout the Eastern Seaboard, the ferocity of Sandy is already undeniable, and we're going to hear about its impact from our reporters out on the coast. Public transportation systems have been shut down, rail service suspended and thousands of flights cancelled. Many bridges and tunnels are closed. The New York Stock Exchange and other markets are closed today and again tomorrow.

CORNISH: Throughout the day, officials issued warning after warning, urging people to take the storm seriously.

SIEGEL: New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, expressed frustration with people who are not complying with mandatory evacuation orders.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'm very concerned about the people who refused to adhere to my mandatory evacuation order and said they were going to ride it out. They are - let me make this as definitive as I can: They are now in harm's way, and I don't know whether we can get them out or not.

CORNISH: In a moment, we'll hear from the coast of northern New Jersey, but first to NPR's Larry Abramson, who joins us from Ocean City, Maryland. And, Larry, describe what you've seen out there today.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Well, Audie, we're up on the fifth floor of a hotel room, and I can see a very angry bay. I think it's the Isle of Wight Bay that is just roaring onto this barrier island. As you know, this is a thin strip of sand a couple of miles off of the coast, and the wind and the water has been getting more and more intense.

And what's very striking, Audie, is the fact that we got here over 24 hours ago, and it was raining heavily yesterday. And the wind was heavy yesterday, and it just keeps getting stronger. So there's been a lot of flooding, and the city has slowly been cordoned off.

There's a big chunk of southern Ocean City, the older section of town where buildings are built lower to the ground, that are basically inaccessible, where everybody's been evacuated. And they have even cut off power to that section of the city because they're concerned that they'll lose power in the rest of the city.

The Bay Bridge that connects the Delmarva Peninsula, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is usually used to bring thousands and millions of people to the beach, has been closed because of a high wind. So this entire area has just been brought to a complete standstill.

CORNISH: So this flooding, it's definitely more than they expected?

ABRAMSON: I think it is. And one thing that they're worried about right now is that we had a high tide this morning that started some flooding, then the tide went back down again and they got a little bit of relief. But now that the wind is the most intense and the rain is the most intense, we have a high tide expected this evening.

And like I said, we're surrounded by water on basically three sides. So they're very worried that this high tide could lead to basically breakthroughs of the dunes that are protecting this barrier island from the water.

So it looks like the water damage could still be severe, but because they were able to evacuate almost everybody - except for a couple of hundred people - from this area, the police are optimistic that they don't think that there have been any injuries or death so far. But, of course, we have a long ways to go.

CORNISH: And, Larry, at this point, are you seeing much wind damage?

ABRAMSON: Well, the wind is really strong. It's the strongest wind I've been in. But when we were driving around Ocean City today, we did not see signs down, broken windows, you know, the debris that you often see from hurricanes. Now Ocean City is slightly urbanized for a beach community. In other words, there's pretty big hotels and not as many small individual houses. So that may make things a little bit safer.

But I think that the - since the wind is, you know, more in the 60-mile-an-hour range than in the 100-mile-an-hour range, we may not see some of the worst damage that we'd expect from a hurricane of this ferocity. On the other hand, the rain and the water could well be around for days, they're saying, and I think that that's going to be the major cleanup issue. It's just how soon will the water drain out of these bays and creeks.

CORNISH: NPR's Larry Abramson, who spoke to us from Ocean City, Maryland. Thank you, Larry.

ABRAMSON: Thank you.

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