In Rehoboth Beach, where streets began to flood by 4:30 p.m., it was difficult to see more than 150 yards on the beach by late afternoon. A stinging rain fell as winds blew foam and sand onto the boardwalk.
Many residents awoke to warnings at 7:15 a.m., when a storm siren echoed through the streets. It was followed by an announcement that the city was under mandatory evacuation, calling for residents to leave the coastal area as soon as possible.
“It scared the [heck] out of me,” said Al Morris, who has been coming to Rehoboth for 40 years.
The alarm, spread by loudspeakers positioned around town, sounded two more times before nightfall as winds blew a thick layer of sand onto the boardwalk. Large sections of roadways were covered in standing water.
Due to the worsening conditions, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) announced a driving ban in Sussex, Kent and New Castle counties. McDonnell said the Virginia National Guard has been mobilized, and he has authorized local jurisdictions to impose overnight curfews. Several Hampton Roads jurisdictions, including Newport News, have done so.
With beach communities in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware largely evacuated, people living inland in Eastern Shore communities began to receive the same message.
“We are supposed to evacuate in a few hours now,” Sabine Boggs said. “Salisbury City police drove down our street with lights flashing and a PA system announcement that a shelter has been set up at the civic center. All the garden furniture is stuffed in our sunroom, and the treadmill has become a good plant stand.”
Even as the winds toppled stop signs and pushed slender trees nearly horizontal, authorities had to coax thrill-seekers away from the beaches. They issued dire warnings to residents stubbornly staying behind that they would not be rescued.
A team of city police, beach patrol officers and Maryland state troopers took the names of next of kin from about 300 Ocean City residents who refused to budge. They would be on their own, they were told.
Lifeguards ordered daredevil surfers to get out of the water as winds reached gale force.
Even as winds began to break branches and bend street signs, some people ventured out to experience the leading edge of the hurricane. Ocean City police officer Freddie Howard, five hours into what he expected to be a 48-hour shift, was patrolling near 45th Street when he saw two figures careening unsteadily on bicycles.
Catching up to them in the breezeway of a condominium tower, Howard flipped his police lights on and forced his cruiser door open against the gale.
“What are you doing out here?” he shouted over the roar. The two men, in their early 20s, could barely hold their bikes upright, although one of them never stopped filming Howard and his flashing patrol car.
“We’re just looking around,” one man shouted back.
“That’s not a good idea,” the officer said. “We’re evacuating the town. You should go for your own safety.”
But the two insisted that they would be fine in their condo, so Howard let them go.
Willie Long, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier in Virginia Beach, went about his usual rounds, though wetter than usual, somewhat to the surprise of residents. “They have two views: One is, ‘You’re crazy.’ The other is, ‘Kudos,’ ” Long said.
And near Annapolis, Michael Marvin, who moved from the District to within 100 feet of the Chesapeake Bay just days before Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003, hunkered down as the day’s grayness turned to dusk Saturday.
“Fill the tubs, replace the batteries, clear the outside drains, charge the phones and wait,” Marvin said at his home just north of Annapolis.
The scenarios officials had been warning about for days seemed to be coming true. By 6 p.m., winds exceeded 50 miles an hour in Ocean City. Officials pulled police patrols off the streets and ordered officers into safe staging areas around town.
“We’ll assess calls on a case-by-case basis,” said Ocean City communications director Donna Abbott. “Otherwise, we’ll keep them in until the winds die down and it’s safer to be out.”
The lower, southernmost blocks of the island were beginning to flood, Abbott said. They city also shut down its waste water treatment facilities.
Staff writers Carol Morello, Clarence Williams, Martin Weil, Ashley Halsey III, Miranda S. Spivack, Nikita Stewart, Brian M. Rosenthal, Anita Kumar, John Wagner, Robert Samuels and Mary Pat Flaherty contributed to this report.