BREAKING NEWS: Evacuation-zone residents should be out now; conditions worsening ahead of Irene's arrival

Hurricane Irene begins making its way into Sussex County
Those evacuating at-risk areas should be out; conditions will worsen quickly as day progresses

The first effects of Hurricane Irene are beginning to spiral into Sussex County and the Mid-Atlantic region this Saturday morning, and conditions are expected to quickly deteriorate throughout the day and into this evening as the storm rakes coastal states from North Carolina to Maine with torrential rains, high winds and extreme tidal flooding.

A hurricane warning remains in effect for all of Sussex County. The storm, as of 8 a.m. Saturday, had sustained winds of 85 mph and was located along the North Carolina coast, moving to the NNE at 14 mph. That trend is expected to continue, with little to no strengthening expected.

Forecasters expect gradual weakening of the storm between landfall today and Sunday morning, as the storm makes its way along the Delaware coast. However, wind conditions are expected to remain at Category 1 force for Sussex County throughout most of the event, with sustained winds expected between 60 mph to 80 mph, as well as up to 12 inches of rain and a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet along the Atlantic and Delaware Bay coastlines.

“As the day goes on, the conditions are going to go downhill very quickly,” said Joseph L. Thomas, director of the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center. “This is the calm before the storm, so now is when everyone should be in place and prepared to ride this out for the long haul.”

Light to moderate rain has been falling across Sussex County since shortly after sunrise, and winds are beginning to pick up to 15 mph or higher, particularly along the immediate coastline. Conditions will rapidly worsen, with the most severe effects of the storm expected between sunset today and sunrise Sunday morning.

A state of emergency remains in effect in Delaware, and evacuations of vulnerable areas from Slaughter Beach to Fenwick Island were to be completed by 9 a.m. today.

“If you are still in the designated evacuation area and you haven’t left, this is ‘zero hour,’” Thomas added. “If you plan to move, your window of opportunity is quickly closing. Go now.”

Evacuation routes, including Routes 1, 113, 13 and the east-west arteries, remained open this morning. Traffic, so far, has been light, officials said.

In Sussex County, the identified evacuation zone includes the communities of Slaughter Beach, Prime Hook, Broadkill Beach, Long Neck and Oak Orchard, as well along the Route 1 corridor, including the areas in and around Lewes Beach, Henlopen Acres, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, North Bethany, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island. The evacuation zone includes all areas that are historically flood-prone. A map of the evacuation zone is posted on the County Web site, at www.sussexcountyde.gov.

Sussex County and State emergency planners have designated three shelters for those evacuating coastal communities and flood-prone areas in advance of Hurricane Irene. The shelters are open to the public.

As capacity is limited, these shelters should be used as a means of last resort, officials said. Residents and visitors evacuating from at-risk areas are encouraged to seek refuge with family or friends elsewhere, if possible. The shelters are:
• Beacon Middle School, 19482 John J. Williams Highway, Lewes;
• Indian River High School 29772 Armory Road, Dagsboro (pets accepted); and
• Milford High School, 1019 N. Walnut St., (pets accepted).

Those visiting a shelter are being reminded to take adequate clothing, medications, sleeping materials and food for themselves, their families and/or their pets (where accepted). Shelters will be staffed by the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula (www.redcrossdelmarva.org).

The Sussex County EOC is again encouraging residents and visitors to continue monitoring the tropics and conditions as they deteriorate. For updates, stay tuned to local media, the Sussex County EOC Web site at www.sussexcountyde.gov/services/storm, and the County’s Twitter feeds at www.twitter.com/sussex_pio and www.twitter.com/sussexctyde_eoc.

The public should also monitor the National Weather Service at www.nws.noaa.gov/er/phi, and the Delaware Department of Transportation at www.deldot.gov for the latest updates.

For storm-related concerns or questions, the public should call the Sussex County EOC’s storm line at (302) 856-7366. Calls to 911 should be reserved for life-threatning emergencies only.

Please note: The Coastal Point Web site and our Bethany Beach boardwalk Webcam are both under heavy use and will continue to be during this storm. This may result in error messages or outdated pages to be displayed for periods of time. If you receive an error message or other anomalous result from our sites, please try again later.

While Internet service and power remain, we plan to continue to make updates available on the Web site, on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/coastalpoint and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/coastalpoint. Please check Facebook or Twitter for the most up-to-date information, as we will continue to make regular updates as long as that is possible.

Anyone with photographs or news related to the storm is asked to share them with us through Facebook and Twitter. However, do not risk your safety to get photos or information on the storm.