Mainers keeping an eye on Earl

An August 30, 2010 satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows Hurriane Earl. Hurricane Earl, now a powerful Category 4 storm, barreled toward the U.S. coast early Tuesday, August 31, 2010 after battering tiny islands across the northeastern Caribbean with heavy rain and winds that damaged homes and toppled power lines.  (AP Photo/NOAA)
AP
An August 30, 2010 satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows Hurriane Earl. Hurricane Earl, now a powerful Category 4 storm, barreled toward the U.S. coast early Tuesday, August 31, 2010 after battering tiny islands across the northeastern Caribbean with heavy rain and winds that damaged homes and toppled power lines. (AP Photo/NOAA)
Posted Aug. 31, 2010, at 9:39 p.m.

Mainers were keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Earl on Tuesday as it roared past Puerto Rico with sustained winds of more than 135 mph and set its sights on the East Coast.

The powerful storm, classified Tuesday night as a Category 4, or just one step below the maximum strength on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, is expected to turn northeast as it closes in on North Carolina’s Outer Banks late Thursday or early Friday. From there, forecasters said, it could curve away from the coast somewhat as it makes its way north, perhaps hitting Cape Cod and the Maine shoreline Friday night and Saturday.

Evacuations along the East Coast could be needed in order to protect people from the approaching storm, but such decisions will be made by state and local officials, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In a prepared statement issued Monday, officials with Maine Emergency Management Agency urged Mainers to follow Earl’s progress and to observe any necessary resulting safety precautions.

“Although the accuracy of tracks this far in advance is difficult to determine, it is essential that everyone follow the weather reports closely,” MEMA Director Rob McAleer said in the statement.

An advisory issued Tuesday by the National Weather Service indicated that Earl could generate dangerous waves along Maine’s shores.

“This could be hazardous for spectators watching the surf,” the advisory warned.

According to an official at Acadia National Park, park officials are making plans and hoping to avoid a repeat of Aug. 23, 2009, when waves generated by Hurricane Bill crashed over several onlookers near Thunder Hole and dragged them into the water. Three people had to be pulled from the water by the Coast Guard but one of them, 7-year-old Clio Axilrod of New York City, was later pronounced dead.

Stuart West, Acadia’s chief ranger, said Tuesday that park officials are applying what they learned from Hurricane Bill to their preparations for Hurricane Earl.

Organizers of coastal fairs and festivals scheduled for the Labor Day weekend also are keeping an eye on Earl’s path, but they’re not making any snap decisions to change their plans.

For now, events and programs remain in place as scheduled for the annual Blue Hill Fair and the Camden Windjammer Festival. A Pirate Invasion of Lubec set for Saturday morning might be postponed if the weather turns severe, but the Eastport Salmon Festival would still happen with “all food and music events” moved inside the Eastport Arts Center.

At Acadia National Park, Chief Ranger West said, “We’ve already had meetings and are setting up our emergency management system. We’re trying to learn from [Hurricane Bill] as much as possible.”

The park, which is planning to have extra rangers on duty this weekend, expects to close roads at Seawall on Mount Desert Island and at Schoodic Point, which often get covered by storm-driven high water, the ranger said.

Park officials might restrict the number of motor vehicles on some park roads in order to preserve emergency vehicle access to the shore, according to West. He said the park will work with other agencies to help manage high traffic volumes during the holiday weekend.

“There may be limited access to some parts of the park,” West said. “We’re not just going to close roads [ahead of the storm].”

West said thousands of sightseers drawn to Hurricane Bill’s waves last summer resulted in heavy traffic along Schoodic Drive, which in turn led to traffic congestion in Winter Harbor.

“We don’t want that to happen again,” he said.

Charlie Phippen, Bar Harbor’s harbor master, said Tuesday that the town has removed floats from the eastern side of the municipal pier because of Earl. That side of the pier often is exposed to heavy surf in stormy conditions, he said.

As a result, one small cruise ship that was expected to tie up to one float Sunday has canceled its visit, Phippen said. Three large-ship visits, one planned for Friday and two planned for Sunday, are still scheduled, he said.

“At this point, no, we haven’t [had any large cruise ships cancellations],” Phippen said. “I think the cruise ship people will make that decision on their own, based on the weather.”

According to Steve Robbins of the Stonington Lobster Co-op, several members of the co-op already are moving their traps from shallow water to deeper water.

This time of year, most lobstermen set their traps in shallow water because that is where the lobsters tend to congregate. But shallow water tends to be more violent in heavy storms and can lead to gear getting tangled or even destroyed as it is dragged along the bottom by the surf, Robbins said Tuesday

“A lot of guys are doing a lot of shifting of gear,” Robbins said. “In deeper water, you don’t feel such a surge.”

Robbins said fishermen have been known to haul their gear out of the water altogether, if they sense that an approaching storm could end up being “an old-fashioned trap buster,” as he put it. He estimated that it has been more than five years since the last time a storm had fishermen spooked enough to stack all their traps on dry land, he said.

“It’s been a lot of years since it was at that extreme,” Robbins said. “Everybody’s talking about it.”

Other storms that have caused extensive damage in New England include unnamed storms in 1938 and 1944, and hurricanes Carol and Edna in 1954, Donna in 1960 and Daisy in 1962. More recently, hurricanes that left significant destruction in their wakes in Maine include Gloria in 1985 and Bob in 1991.

Rob Eaton, president of the Blue Hill Fair Association, said Tuesday that the forecasts he has seen weren’t causing him much concern.

“The last forecast said 60 percent chance of rain late Friday and 40 percent chance on Saturday,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to be fast-moving — in here Friday afternoon or evening and out on Saturday morning. I don’t think there’s going to be that big an impact.”

If there is rain, Eaton said, he hopes it will break the heat wave that has kept temperatures at or near 90 degrees the past few days.

“I’m hoping it’ll get this heat out of here and give us perfect fair weather for Saturday afternoon, Sunday and Monday,” he said.

Eaton said he’s not making any particular contingency plans for the hurricane.

“What can we do? We can’t move it [the fair],” he said. “We’ve got a good supply of gravel, plenty of heavy equipment and people to operate it. So we’re in pretty good shape if we need to fill in puddles or wet spots.”

This would not be the first hurricane to hit the fair. In 1994, he said, a hurricane came through bringing with it heavy winds and rain that forced the fair to cancel the Labor Day performance of Patty Loveless. Two years later, although it was not a hurricane, similar weather forced the cancellation of Martina McBride’s scheduled Labor Day performance.

In Camden, Dan Bookham, executive director of the Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce, said organizers would “plan for the worst, but hope for the best” for the weekend. Organizers are watching the situation closely, but won’t make any decisions about schedule changes until late tonight or Thursday, he said.

“Obviously, we’re going to put everyone’s safety first,” Bookham said Tuesday. “In situations like these, there’s a real temptation to be like the mayor in ‘Jaws.’ I don’t want to say ‘There’s no sharks in these waters,’ but I don’t want to make any snap decisions about changing our plans.”

While planned outdoor concerts could be moved indoors, Bookham said it would be difficult to move the Maritime Heritage Fair.

“So much of that is tied to the waterfront,” he said. “We’ve got thousands of square feet of exhibit space down there. We wouldn’t be able to move that.”

In Eastport, John Miller of the Pirate Festival Committee, said an “invasion” of Lubec is still planned for Saturday morning. The invasion involves several boatloads of pirates crossing Cobscook Bay to Lubec to help promote the actual Pirate Festival, which is scheduled for the following weekend of Sept. 11-12.

“Obviously if we have heavy winds and rain the Pirate Invasion of Lubec will be postponed,” he said.

If changing the date is necessary, Miller said, news outlets in both Maine and New Brunswick will be notified.

Bangor Daily News writers Rich Hewitt and Sharon Mack, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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