BREAKING NEWS: Mandatory evacuation ordered on Delaware coast

Gov. Jack Markell announced at 5 p.m. on Saturday that Delaware was entering a limited state of emergency to facilitate an evacuation over a 24-hour period. Beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday night, communities within .75 miles of the coast in Sussex and Kent counties, as well as flood areas in western Sussex County, should evacuate their homes.

“If people live near a body of water in a flood-prone area, you should probably evacuate,” added Markell. “Take this very seriously, this evacuation order.”

Markell said a comprehensive list of communities under the mandatory evacuation order would be released within the hour (a map and list are expected to be posted at the DEMA Web site at Jamie Turner, manager of Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said an estimated 50,000 people would be affected by the evacuation.

A complete list of shelters was also to be released within the hour, but officials noted that Indian River High School would be one of the shelters in Sussex County. (If shelters remain open on Monday, which is likely, it is also likely classes will be canceled in the Indian River School District.) They added that shelters — some allowing pets and others not — would not open until noon on Sunday.

The shelters offer a space to sleep and limited food. Those seeking shelter there need to bring sleeping bags, blankets, snacks, medicines, games and books, etc. However, officials advised that people should bring as little as needed with them to the shelters, as they are being given “space on the floor.”

Markell noted that those who live in the mandatory evacuation areas who refuse to leave their homes will not be forcibly removed.

“This is not a police state. People have to take personal responsibility here,” he said.

He added that emergency personnel will do their best to respond to calls for help within the evacuation zones during the storm, but only if it would be safe for them to do so.

“There is no penalty. People need to take responsibility… This is serious, and if you don’t get out you are putting yourself and potentially others, first responders, in harm’s way, and we look at that very seriously.”

“Bay communities will almost certainly be cut off from first responders,” added Turner.

Turner said to expect winds up to 60 mph at dusk Sunday night — part of a faster-moving timeline for the storm’s arrival than was previously predicted — along with extremely heavy rains, with an estimated 10 inches to fall in Sussex County.

“We’re looking for a series of high tides, major flooding on the ocean side, as well as up the Delaware Bay. This all depends on where and how long it stays near Delaware… I can assure you it’s going to be something that a lot of people haven’t been able to see in Delaware.”

Delaware Department of Transportation Shailen Bhatt said that tolls may be lifted in the state for evacuees.

Turner said that DEMA is preparing to react to the damage the storm could potentially cause, but he warned that many citizens may be without power, due to the high winds and rainfall.

“What we’re doing right now is planning for the impact on the coast. With the amount of wind we have, and the amount of rain we have, the leaves become very heavy and the trees are only going to be able to take so much wind, and they’re going to start coming down. We’re going to have massive power outages, I would suspect. We are planning on continuing our operation until the winds and the water subside.”

“The power companies obviously pre-position people to deal with them expeditiously as they can,” added Markell of power outages, “while also making sure they keep their people safe. That being said, I think people should anticipate you could be out of power for a while. You could be out of power for a long time. It’s another reason you should be prepared and make sure you have supplies.”

The state of emergency does not require business closures, but Markell said that such an order could be made later on during the storm. At present, no driving restrictions are in place, but that could also change as the storm approaches. Major roadways in the state are the evacuation routes, but officials suggested people south of the Indian River Inlet Bridge travel west rather than north on Route 1. People with specific evacuation questions can call the Sussex County EOC at (302) 855-7801.

Officials suggested evacuees look to head west, if possible, rather than north via Route 1.

For those who are in need of emergency help, a special hotline has been set up for Delaware residents, at (800) 464-HELP.