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O’Malley says Maryland is preparing for Irene

REISTERSTOWN — Gov. Martin O’Malley said the mandatory evacuation of Ocean City was going smoothly on Friday and that preparations continued for Hurricane Irene that is barreling toward the mid-Atlantic region.

O’Malley said he was optimistic that the 5 p.m. evacuation deadline for the beach resort town will be met, after speaking with Mayor Rich Meehan Friday morning.

“He says that there are very, very few businesses that are still open on the Boardwalk, for example,” O’Malley said. “There’s a fair amount of activity with shop owners and property owners boarding up and trying to fortify their properties as best they can against what will no doubt be a very damaging blast from this deadly storm that’s going to come very, very close or right over the coast of Ocean City.”

Traffic away from Ocean City has been moving in a pretty steady flow since early Friday morning. About 50 Maryland State Police troopers have gone to Ocean City to go door-to-door to advise citizens to leave, if they haven’t already.

“It is the height of stupidity and the height of selfishness for any citizen to stay in Ocean City and put a burden and risk the lives of first responders by being foolish, by being stupid or by being selfish,” O’Malley said.

The small Smith Island, known for its layer cakes, also is under mandatory evacuation. O’Malley noted that voluntary evacuations have been advised for Kent Island in low-lying Queen Anne’s County, as well as Cobb Island and Indian Head in Charles County. O’Malley said the state is following the lead of local emergency management officials who know their areas best.

“Over the course of the next few hours, I’m going to be making rounds of calls to our counties that have the greatest numbers of citizens living in those coastal areas, offering help and making sure that our colleagues at the county level, if they err, they err on the side of protecting life,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said it was most important to warn people to take the hurricane seriously. In Annapolis, residents already were starting to fill sandbags, and shelves of bottled water at large grocery stores were cleaned out.

In the meantime, O’Malley said the state is keeping a close eye on the Eastern Shore counties of Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester. State officials have made plans to move prisoners at the Eastern Correctional Center to higher ground, if necessary. Officials also are watching out for nursing homes and hospitals in low-lying areas on the Eastern Shore.

In neighboring Delaware, Mango Mike’s is among the popular restaurants that are shuttering after Gov. Jack Markell ordered an evacuation of all coastal areas. It’s a busy weekend for restaurant, which was expecting live music on Friday and Saturday nights and could easily lose $40,000 to $50,000 of business, said Alex Heidenberger, whose family owns the Bethany Beach restaurant.

“We could be open tonight for business, but there’s a very fine line between doing the right thing and putting our staff at risk,” Heidenberger said. “It’s not so much we’re worried about the storm coming tonight, but we want to give them a chance to get out of town and get their affairs in order.”