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Riley in Southern Maryland – Downed trees, rattled bridges

  • Charles County,St Mary's County,Calvert County,Prince George's County
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Trees--including this one in La Plata, which landed on a motor vehicle--fell hard throughout the region March 2. Photo courtesy of Kelly McConkey

Prince Frederick, MD - Friday, March 2, 2018—the sounds of sirens, chainsaws and the whistling wind. Winter Storm Riley is clobbering the upper-Northeast but the gale has caused plenty of damage in Southern Maryland. Volunteers from all of St. Mary’s County’s emergency companies were constantly busy throughout the day. Their counterparts in Calvert and Charles were also responding to calls. According to the Prince Frederick Volunteer Fire Department, company crews had answered over 25 calls as of 8 p.m. Friday night. The calls included one motor vehicle crash and three brush fires. Department officials issued warnings to the public about not leaving candles unattended in the event of a prolonged electrical outage.

La Plata Volunteer Fire Department reported their crews responded to nearly 50 calls between 5:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. “They [calls] are still coming in,” company officials reported. Charles County Volunteers Public Information Officer Bill Smith reported around noon Friday that the county's firefighters had responded to 80 calls in a 12-hour period. Smith said the calls ranged from downed trees, brush fires, transformer fires, trees on houses and "one incident with a tree on a car with people trapped." 

The toppled trees resulted in widespread power outages all over the region. Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) reported that despite the deployment of 30 crews working along with more than 50 additional contractor teams the sustained high winds kept the outages ongoing. In a statement issued early Friday evening, SMECO officials told customers, “damage to SMECO’s system has been severe and widespread, affecting customers across the entire service area.

As if roads blocked by trees, loss of electricity and dangerous flying debris were bad enough, the span that links Southern Maryland to the Commonwealth of Virginia is temporarily closed and barricaded. Maryland transportation officials closed the Governor Harry Nice Bridge during the early afternoon hours. According to the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia transportation officials barricaded the toll bridge, which is nearly 80-years-old.

Wind restrictions were placed on the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge by the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA). According to SHA officials, house trailers, empty box trucks, empty tractor trailers or any empty oversized vehicle is prohibited from crossing the bridge until further notice. The speed limit is 40 mph while the restrictions are in place.

According to the National Weather Service, wind gusts recorded Friday morning at Dulles International Airport rivaled those logged at the facility during the memorable and destructive June 2012 Mid-Atlantic Derecho.

In the Southern Maryland region, one of the highest recorded wind gusts was 67 mph in Upper Marlboro. In Suitland, blustery winds knocked down an apartment complex wall, prompting the evacuations of hundreds of residents. Many of the displaced apartment dwellers are being sheltered at Suitland High School where they are being assisted by the Prince George County Office of Emergency Management and the American Red Cross. It may be several days before the residents will be permitted to return to their apartments.

Charles County’s Department of Emergency Services opened a shelter Friday at the Port Tobacco Recreation Center. However, due to lack of participation, the shelter was closed later in the evening. Also Friday evening, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency. According to the governor’s office, the statewide declaration “will allow the state to efficiently coordinate support and provide additional assistance to local jurisdictions.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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